Who is Mackenzy Bernadeau?

Who is Mackenzy Bernadeau? Well, barring another injury, he figures to be the Panthers' starting left guard for the rest of the season. Other than that nugget, I'm not sure even his teammates know much about him.

If they do, they were not saying too much in their locker room Tuesday. Because of the short week -- the Panthers face Miami Thursday -- the media invaded on the usual players' day off this week. But few players were there to talk and Bernadeau was not among them.

The second-year lineman could prove essential in helping Carolina continue its solid play of late. The Panthers have won four of six since an 0-3 start, relying a lot on a potent running game. Carolina is 3rd in the NFL in rushing, but only 25th in passing. With few weapons in the passing game besides No. 1 receiver Steve Smith, Carolina likely won't change its approach on offense despite losing All-Pro left tackle Jordan Gross to injury Sunday.

"I don't think plugging a guy in is going to change what we're doing," says center Ryan Kalil.

That means Bernadeau must play well filling in for Travelle Wharton, who slides over to left tackle to replace Gross, who is out for the season. That said, here is what we know about Bernadeau:

--Bernadeau is expected to make his first career start Thursday. He is in his first season on the active roster, after sitting out all of last season as a rookie.

--Bernadeau, a 23-year-old Waltham, Mass., native, was a late seventh-round pick in 2008 out of Division-II Bentley (Mass.). Only two players were picked after him, which means he was thisclose to being an undrafted free agent. He was the 40th offensive lineman drafted that year, after teammates Jeff Otah (No. 19 overall) and Geoff Schwartz, selected earlier in the seventh.

(After selecting Otah, Carolina opted to fill holes at linebacker and defensive back with its two third-round picks -- rather than build depth on the offensive line. General manager Marty Hurney passed on guards Josh Sitton, Carl Nicks and Jeremy Zuttah. All are starting in the NFL now. We will see soon how prescient those moves were).

Bernadeau was selected in part because he can play multiple positions; he played both guard and tackle in college.

Last season the NFL game may have been too fast and too complicated for him to pick up. A few players alluded to that Tuesday, without saying so directly.

Quarterback Jake Delhomme and tight end Jeff King said Bernadeau has improved a lot since last season. Delhomme said he has improved "mentally," but did not elaborate. In general, Delhomme says, players from smaller schools have trouble adjusting to the speed of the game as rookies.

Players generally make a leap in their second NFL year, King says. He added that Bernadeau "has done a great job," and cited "knowing the game better" as one way Bernadeau has improved.

--Bernadeau apparently has a strong work ethic. "He's a kid who really works hard and takes a lot of pride in what he does," Delhomme says.

Bernadeau has a unique offseason training regimen. He follows a "strongman" routine at a New Jersey gym. It has yielded a body that is listed at 6-foot-4, 308 pounds. He certainly looked strong enough to play in the NFL in the fourth quarter against Atlanta Sunday, when he helped springboard tailback Jonathan Stewart for the 45-yard touchdown run that sealed the win.

Bernadeau pulled outside left on that play. Pulling, he told Panthers.com Monday, is something he loves to do.

--Bernadeau does not have much time to sweat his first start.

Thursday's game is so soon after the last one, he may not have time to get nervous. The Panthers have not had a day off since Sunday, although they have not gone too hard in practice (to preserve their bodies for what figures to be a physical game between run-oriented teams).

On the other hand, Delhomme says, the short week could work against Bernadeau, He has less time to prepare for a Miami defense that is 7th in the NFL against the run and uses a 3-4 defense (which is less popular than the 4-3 alignment the Panthers face most of the time).

Confused yet? It's okay. Chew on this. Here's what could be the biggest factor in determining how well Bernadeau, and the Panthers offense, do Thursday: Bernadeau is expected to line up in between Wharton and Kalil, both veterans of at least three NFL seasons. Delhomme did not allude or generalize when he said this: That veteran presence will help Bernadeau immensely.

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