CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) _ Tshimanga Biakabutuka took another step forward in his recovery from major knee surgery when the Carolina Panthers, struggling to rush the ball recently, promoted him to starting halfback Wednesday.

``We just feel like we need to do something to try to upgrade our running game,'' coach Dom Capers said of the decision to have Biakabutuka replace Anthony Johnson for Sunday's home game against Atlanta.

The eighth overall selection in the 1996 NFL draft, Biakabutuka looked promising before his rookie season was ended in the fourth week with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee.

Johnson, who stepped in last season and rushed for 1,120 yards, opened the 1997 season with 220 yards in the first two games. He has struggled since then with a combined 119 yards in the last five games.

Carolina (3-4) has generated more than 93 rushing yards in a game just once since the opener _ a 141-yard output in a 26-7 victory over San Diego on Sept. 14.

Biakabutuka, who did not play in the Panthers' first two games, has averaged 4.2 yards on 42 carries in the last five.

``He's making progress and gaining confidence,'' Capers said. ``His confidence is as good as it's been.''

Capers said he planned to continue using a rotation featuring Biakabutuka, Johnson and rookie free agent Fred Lane. The number of carries each player will get is uncertain, Capers said.

``It's going to just depend on the feel of the game and how the game's going,'' he said.