Carolina Panthers RB Chuba Hubbard is healthy for first time in NFL life. It’s showing (2024)

Chuba Hubbard couldn’t help but hear the naysayers in his first few years as a Carolina Panther — predominantly those who shouted that he “was falling all the time” and that he “couldn’t break a tackle.”

He’s now in a position to address the cacophony of yesteryear:

“Guess you just don’t know everything.”

The 2021 fourth-round draft pick out of Oklahoma State — he rushed for 3,459 yards in his three seasons there — was referring specifically to being healthy for the first time in his NFL life, at long last. And a healthy Hubbard means a better Carolina Panthers offense, and the team seems to know it: In Week 13, the running back finished third in the league in rushing yards with 104 yards and two touchdowns on 25 carries — Christian McCaffrey-type numbers in terms of usage. He also was only the second player this season to garner over 100 rushing yards against the staunch Tampa Bay Bucs’ rushing defense.

How did it happen?

A lot of it has to do with feeling confident in his body again, Hubbard said.

“I mean, double abductor surgery and meniscus surgery (before rookie season), I think people don’t realize how long it takes for you to come back and feel confident in your body,” Hubbard said, adding he had another double abductor surgery after his rookie season, too. “And then for me, it was like, just building up core strength. When that’s all messed up, it messes up everything, from your hamstrings, to your balance, to all these things.”

When asked if this is the best he’s felt since coming into the league, he responded: “Definitely.”

Carolina Panthers RB Chuba Hubbard is healthy for first time in NFL life. It’s showing (1)

It’s no secret 2023 has been a breakout year for Hubbard. He now has 143 carries — a bunch more than in 15 games played in 2022 — for 557 yards and four touchdowns. His emergence has been an extra surprise considering he entered this year with the expectation of having to provide sparks in spurts, of being a role player behind big offseason signing Miles Sanders.

But Hubbard earned the coaching staff’s trust early on in the season, eclipsing Sanders in carries as early as Week 4 against Minnesota, and proving his worth even as the rest of the offense has struggled. It’s increased even after losing running backs coach Duce Staley, who was fired the day head coach Frank Reich was and who Hubbard has credited with coaching him up.

His performance — and his preparation — hasn’t gone unnoticed.

”I would say as far as guys who take the best care of their bodies, I would say Chuba is at the top of the list, when it comes to extra recovery, ‘pre-habbing,’ being somebody ready to rock and roll,” offensive coordinator Thomas Brown told reporters Thursday. “Obviously playing the position running back-wise, it’s a brutal spot. So when it comes to the contact you face week in and week out, it’s important for those guys to do a really good job of staying as fresh as they can.”

Carolina Panthers RB Chuba Hubbard is healthy for first time in NFL life. It’s showing (2)

There is still a bunch to be desired in the Panthers’ run game, and not all of it is within Hubbard’s control. The offensive line has been in the spotlight for the wrong reasons all year. And the play-calling has drawn some scrutiny, too. The Panthers’ most crucial plays against the Bucs — a third-and-1 and the subsequent fourth-and-1 — were both throws that fell incomplete, and they came with Hubbard in the backfield and Andy Dalton (a proven QB-sneaker) on the sideline.

The offense as a whole, too, is struggling. The Panthers dwell in 29th in points per game, 30th in yards per game and last in yards per play. Their third-down conversion, so long a sparkle in mundanity, has dropped too to 35% (25th in the NFL). These problems might not get much easier against a solid New Orleans Saints defense at 1 p.m. Sunday.

But Hubbard is providing a downhill toughness to this offense that has been missing.

He’s bringing a strength that the rest of the league didn’t know he had.

He’s being ... himself.

“He has an attitude about him from a physicality standpoint as far as playing downfield,” Brown said. “So definitely excited about his progress throughout the season but also last week as well.”

Carolina Panthers RB Chuba Hubbard is healthy for first time in NFL life. It’s showing (3)

Quick hits: Derrick Brown strong season, injury report

Derrick Brown is quietly having a career year. The defensive lineman, who’s third in tackles among DLs and graded out with a 91.3% in Week 13, earned praise from everyone around the locker room Thursday, including defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero: “Not just recently, the whole year, he’s been a force. He’s a dominant run player. He plays with great effort. It’s been really cool to see how he’s progressed as a football player, understanding it, his knowledge. ... The way he plays exemplifies the way we want to play the defense.”

Injury report after practice Thursday. Defensive tackle DeShawn Williams (knee) did not practice again Thursday. Neither did linebacker DJ Johnson (personal reason). Eleven others showed up on the limited participation report Thursday — including tight end Hayden Hurst (concussion protocol), cornerback Jaycee Horn (hamstring) and Jeremy Chinn (quadriceps). Ian Thomas remains the only tight end on the active roster with injury designation this week.

Carolina Panthers RB Chuba Hubbard is healthy for first time in NFL life. It’s showing (2024)
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