Originally created 06/04/99

Panther's Biakabutuka injured again



CHARLOTTE -- Tshimanga Biakabutuka went down with a pulled left hamstring at the Carolina Panthers' minicamp Thursday, further depleting an already thin group of tailbacks.

Biakabutuka pulled up in pain while running a pass route during the first of the day's two practices. He was driven off the practice complex in a golf cart and did not return for the second practice.

"The trainers felt it best that he get in and put ice on it right away so that it's not the type of injury that's going to be a big issue," coach George Seifert said.

The team said Biakabutuka would likely be held out of the rest of the minicamp, which runs through next week, but should be ready for training camp in late July.

While his latest injury was not classified as a major one, it was another setback for someone who has had problems staying on the field since the Panthers took him with the eighth overall selection in the 1996 draft.

Biakabutuka, who has not rushed for 1,000 yards combined in his first three NFL seasons, said earlier this week his main goal for 1999 was to stay healthy the whole year and prove himself worthy of being a No. 1 pick.

Biakabutuka's latest injury comes with fellow tailback Fred Lane already out, watching minicamp from the sidelines as he recovers from arthroscopic knee surgery.

With those two players out, the only healthy tailbacks are Anthony Johnson, Carolina's all-time rushing leader, and Winslow Oliver, who has been relegated to a third-down back in his three-year pro career.

Johnson, an emergency starter since joining the Panthers in 1995, found himself back in a familiar position -- running with the first-team offense -- after Biakabutuka was injured Thursday morning.

"I think that's why everybody's here, to be ready when their opportunity comes. So you always take care of your position, take care of your business and be ready," Johnson said. "I prepare as if I'm the starter every week. I want to know everything I can possibly know about a play and the schemes and all that. So it doesn't really matter."

Johnson almost didn't last long in his latest stint as a starter. Later in the morning practice, Johnson took a flare pass in a goal-line drill and raced toward the end zone along the right sideline, where he was tackled fairly hard by linebacker Micheal Barrow.

The Panthers are practicing without pads this week and aren't supposed to be tackling at all. Johnson later said the tackle left him with a slightly twisted ankle but nothing serious enough to send him to the sidelines as well.

"For a non-contact camp," he said with a smile, "there's quite a bit of contact."

Seifert said it's a comfort knowing that the Panthers can rely on Johnson, who has averaged 3.8 yards while rushing for 1,723 yards in his career with Carolina.

"Anthony Johnson's been more than just a backup over his career, so certainly I feel good about that part of it," Seifert said. "But at the same time I look forward to Tshimanga coming back and also Fred Lane."