Panthers notebook: Chuba Hubbard ready for increased workload Sunday if it happens

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Chuba Hubbard couldn’t stop sweating Wednesday.

He wasn’t nervous. The Carolina Panthers’ rookie running back from Canada was wearing a hoodie and a beanie and had just came out of the sauna, he said.

Outside, the weather was 70 degrees. Inside the press room, it may have been a little warmer.

“I shouldn’t have worn this, I’m drippin’,” Hubbard said, as sweat dripped down his face. “Can I get a towel or something? ... People are going to be on me. I already know.”

The moment was lighthearted. In recent weeks, Hubbard has become the team’s lead back. And on Sunday against the Giants (1-5), he’ll take on that role again as Christian McCaffrey misses his fourth consecutive game. He may see his carries increase, too.

On Monday, Panthers coach Matt Rhule said the Panthers would fundamentally change their offense to become a more balanced team, after the Panthers struggled in a 34-28 overtime loss to the Vikings last Sunday.

Sam Darnold was 17-of-41 passing for 207 yards and an interception. Hubbard ran for 61 yards on 16 carries. As a team, the Panthers ran it 23 times for 118 yards.

Rhule said he wants to run at least 33 times a game. Last week, the Panthers got away from the running game, which was working well.

If that happens, Hubbard said he’s ready for it.

“Whatever coach calls, whatever coach says, whether it’s pass the ball, run the ball, kick the ball more, I’ll just follow whatever he says,” Hubbard said.

Hubbard has rushed for 281 yards on 72 carries and one touchdown this season. His best game was against the Eagles when he ran for 101 yards two weeks ago.

This week presents another opportunity for Hubbard to have a big game. The Giants have one of the five-worst run defenses in the NFL. They are allowing 137 rushing yards per game.

“To be honest, I feel like I’ve done some good stuff,” Hubbard said. “Obviously, I need to work on a lot of things. But I just want to take it to the next level. I feel like I can impact the game, make big plays and take things to another level. That’s what I’m trying to do.”

When asked what that looks like, Hubbard said he wants to run one 80 yards for a touchdown or catch a pass for a touchdown. Two things Hubbard must improve are his pass catching and blocking.

Hubbard dropped two passes Sunday.

But he says he’s working on his catching every day, even when he’s at home.

Hubbard said he does tennis-ball drills at home to work on hand placement. He said his girlfriend, who lifts weights, also throws with him in the backyard.

“She likes catching it and stuff like that, too,” Hubbard said with a laugh. “She’s trying to get her hands right, too. So it’s good for both of us.”

Shi Smith getting more reps

There’s a good chance rookie wide receiver Shi Smith might be the Panthers’ No. 3 receiver Sunday against the Giants.

Smith took reps as the No. 3 wide receiver Wednesday and Thursday as rookie Terrace Marshall remains in concussion protocol.

Wide receiver Brandon Zylstra was put on the injured reserve list Tuesday after straining his hamstring, and Alex Erickson, who was also in concussion protocol earlier this week, was limited in practice Thursday.

The Panthers drafted Smith in the sixth round of the 2021 NFL draft.

Last week’s game was the first time this season that Smith was active. Smith had two catches for 20 yards against the Vikings.

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