CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) - DeAngelo Williams isn't buying the adage that running backs hit the wall when they turn 30 _ at least not in his case.

Williams, who turned 30 in April, said because he split carries the majority of his career with the Carolina Panthers he still feels durable enough to carry the load on offense.

The Panthers will ask him to do just that early on this season with backfield mate Jonathan Stewart out at least five games with an ankle injury.

Panthers coach Ron Rivera said fullback Mike Tolbert and Armond Smith will get some carries, but he's counting on Williams to be the workhorse as the team turns to a more traditional running game.

"I don't have as much wear and tear as a 30-year-old back that has played seven, eight or nine years at that position and took the blunt of the force and bulk of the carries," said Williams, who enters his eighth season in the NFL, all with the Panthers. "I still feel like I'm young. I know I'm young. In football years, they say running backs are old (by that age), but I don't buy it at all."

Williams, Carolina's all-time leader rusher with 5,784 yards, will be tested right away.

The Panthers open the season Sunday at home against the Seattle Seahawks, whose defense allowed the fewest points in the NFL last season.

Williams was held to 6 yards on six carries and fumbled once in Carolina's 16-12 loss to Seattle last October, the low point of his season.

The following week he was benched for Stewart.

But when Stewart injured his ankle later in the year, Williams was thrust back into the starting lineup and finished strong, averaging 89 yards rushing per game and 5.4 yards per carry over the final five games.

He closed the season by rushing for a franchise-record 210 yards against the New Orleans Saints, a game that was meaningless in terms of playoff implications but may have saved Williams' job.

He agreed to take a pay cut this offseason, but teammates said he's as hungry as ever.

Williams' longtime teammate Jordan Gross said he hasn't seen Williams' play slip at all even though his 4.3 yards per carry last season was down slightly from his career average of 4.9 yards per carry.

"He looks the same," said Gross, the team's left tackle. "You watch him run and watch his style. He's never been a run-you-over kind of guy. But his style hasn't changed. He runs the same. He speed is the same. His hair has gotten longer, that's the only difference."

Rivera smiled and cracked a joke when asked about Williams' ability to be the primary ball carrier this season at 30.

"He told me he was 28," Rivera said.

Rivera said Williams remains a weapon, calling him a true professional who "really works hard and does things the right way."

But Rivera added the Panthers are a better team when they can use the one-two punch of Williams and Stewart in the backfield.

"Hopefully once we get through the PUP list thing we'll have Jonathan ready to roll as well," Rivera said. "It will probably be a good thing because DeAngelo will probably be at a point where he will need a little bit of a break or a helping hand."

NOTES: Panthers LB Jon Beason returned to practice after getting the day off Wednesday, but starting strong safety Mike Mitchell sat out after what Rivera described as a "setback" with his calf injury. If Mitchell is unable to play Sunday recently signed free agent Quintin Mikell would get the start.

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Online: AP NFL website http://www.pro32.ap.org

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Follow Steve Reed on Twitter: http://twitter.com/SteveReedAP


(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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