Originally created 09/25/01

Panthers growing weary of Biakabutuka's fumbles



CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Another game, another fumble by Tshimanga Biakabutuka. Now the Carolina Panthers are wondering what to do with their troubled running back.

Biakabutuka fumbled on his fifth carry in Sunday's loss to the Atlanta Falcons and didn't touch the ball the rest of the game. In two games, he's lost two fumbles on just 10 carries.

His difficulty hanging onto the ball already cost him his starting job - rookie Nick Goings was the first running back in the loss to Atlanta - and coach George Seifert said Monday the Panthers are trying to figure out what to do.

"You can just say, 'Hey, the man's going to fight his way through it,' or you can make a change to where he just doesn't get his hands on the ball," Seifert said. "We've briefly discussed it, but it's going to be a day or two before I make a decision as to what we're going to do."

The rash of fumbles - he also lost two in the preseason - has put a serious crimp in Biakabutuka's job security. He's never stayed healthy for an entire year, failing to play in more than 11 games in his first five years in the league, and he's never posted a 1,000-yard season.

But Seifert said he was still reluctant to give up on Biakabutuka.

"He's worked very hard. I have absolutely no negative feelings about the way he has practiced or about the way he's practicing to hold onto the ball," Seifert said. "But it's not getting done right now."

Biakabutuka has spent the past few weeks working on holding onto the ball with specific drills during practice. But it did little to help him in the actual game, where he fumbled the ball without even being tackled.

After watching the film, Biakabutuka said Monday he believed his knee came up and knocked the ball out of his hands as he was running. Although he didn't know why that happened, he thought it was a sign that his problem is not psychological.

"That's physical," he said. "I've never had that happen before, and I've played football for a long time. I guess there's just bad timing for everything."

Seifert isn't so sure it's not a mental block right now. He explained that in his first season with Carolina, he made dropped balls a major issue in practice each day and the issue only seemed to get worse.

"We seemed to just feed on it, and the more we talked about it, the more we seemed to drop them," Seifert said. "Then I finally shut up about it, and we finally stopped dropping them. So maybe if nobody ever writes again about this, we'll never have another fumble."

Biakabutuka, who said he was embarrassed about his latest drop after the 24-16 loss to Atlanta, said he knows his opportunities are probably running out.

Goings has taken away most of his touches this year, rushing for 134 yards on 40 carries. Plus, Richard Huntley is getting closer to seeing playing time.

Huntley, who signed to a two-year deal during the offseason so he could push Biakabutuka for the starting job, missed the preseason with a hamstring injury and was inactive for the first two games. Seifert said he likely would see some playing time this week against Green Bay.

"I'm getting chances to make plays, and instead I fumbled again. I can't explain it," Biakabutuka said. "It's something I've never done before, and I don't know why it is happening."