First things first, I was on a radio show last week known as Cat Crave Radio, run by John White. Real good guy, loves his sports and doesn't back down from arguing with bloggers from other teams in the NFC South. Be sure to visit his radio show at www.catcraveradio.com where he runs his weekly podcast. It's an interesting listen every week and you can fill yourself with all the latest Panther news in two ways at once. While you're reading our articles, you can listen to his podcast. Double the information in half the time! Hurrah for the Internet!
And with that being said, onto the article!
The offensive line has been a position that most fans overlook. Let's be honest, most people in Charlotte are either ragging on Jake Delhomme, talking about Steve Smith, or boasting to other teams about the emergence of Double Trouble. And it's true, our running game was the thing that carried us through the year and helped us get triple the amount of wins over losses.
However, somewhere along the line someone has to do the dirty work to keep our running backs from being flattened by 300+ pound tackles. Though unwatched by a majority of the fans, they share a position that may be the most important of all. They are the Offensive Tackle, Guard, and Center positions that make up the offensive line. Today, I shall be reviewing the Guard position, and I shall list all of the players that have a chance to play in that position.
Travelle Wharton - Projected starter - 6,4 312 pounds ((6th year, South Carolina))
Travelle Wharton is a pretty big guy in the middle of the line. He's proven his worth time and time again, and he was rewarded in 2008 with a 6 year extension to lock him in till 2013.
The most important aspect that Wharton has in his game is the versatility to move around. He can play both tackle and guard, so if Jeff Otah was to go down from injury we could move Wharton over to tackle and throw Duke Robinson into the game and we'd be set to go. Sure, Wharton is better at Guard than tackle, but we don't take a huge dip in the effectiveness of the O-Line either. There are many teams in the NFL that don't have that luxury. The Panthers are not one of them. Barring injury, he will start.
Possibility of starting 100%
Keydrick Vincent- Projected Starter - 6,5 325 pounds ((9th year, Mississippi))
Believe it or not, Keydrick Vincent is a guy that went undrafted in the 2001 NFL Draft. He was picked up in UFA by the Pittsburgh Steelers, and a few years later he was able to win the starting job and play a full season at guard in 2004. From there, he was cut and spent years on the Ravens and the Cardinals squads before joining the Panthers in 2008.
Here, he lasted almost a full season before going down to injury in Week 15. One of the biggest knocks on him is that he's an injury risk. Once you count out 2004, he has never managed to start a full year. For the time he is on the field however, he is a capable player. And with the drafting of Duke Robinson in the 5th round, the aging veteran has a player to tutor under him. Vincent has a few years worth of football left in the tank, and he will contribute to a strong rushing attack this year.
Possibility of starting 80%
Duke Robinson - Projected Backup - 6,5 330 pounds ((Rookie, Oklahoma))
Duke Robinson has a good group of effective tools to use coming out of college. He hails from the college of Oklahoma, whom has created some of the best players currently in the league right now, including Minnesota's RB Adrian Peterson. After being projected to go as high as the late first-early 2nd round, the Carolina Panthers managed to grab him near the end of the 5th round. He has brilliant potential. A nice tall guy, good bulk on him. This year he's going to be a capable backup, and by next year he may be ready to start.
He does have a few knocks on him though. One of the reasons he fell so far was his lack of speed to run forward and take on blocks in the 2nd level. He has to get better. Let's say Ryan Kalil takes care of the DT while Jeff Otah pushes the DE wide and out of the play. If the linebacker is there, he has to be able to run forward and get a good block in order to give Diangelo Williams a decent lane to turn a small play into a big one. He also has that injury tag on him, that kept him out of the Senior Bowl and Combine.
But if he can improve his speed, there is no reason that Duke Robinson can't develop into a starting guard. He may have to drop a few pounds to do so, but he has plenty of weight to play already. Keydrick Vincent's contract expires next year, so don't expect to see him resigned if Duke proves he can handle the job. If his growth goes well, he will be indispensable piece to an already talented O-line.
Possibility of starting 20%, Possibility of making roster 100%
Mackenzy Bernadeau - Projected Backup - 6,4 308 pounds ((2nd year, Bently))
A 7th round pick for the Panthers in 2008, Bernadeau signed an uncharacteristically long 4 year contract to seal him as a player for years to come. He's on his second year, and judging by his contract he will probably make the roster as a project in development. He will continue his work in training camp and on the practice squad, training his skills enough so that perhaps he could take some time in games in the near future or prove to be a good backup.
The biggest thing he can do right now to help his case is continue to work out and put on some meat. He had a very fast 40 time, but some weight would do him wonders like it did to the rest of the O-Line. He's the first player to be drafted from Bently, and in Division II football he never really had that much of a challenge coming at him from out of college. He's pretty much a 'wait and see' player. The Panthers will need him this year for depth, and will probably keep him since he can also play tackle. Still, if he shows no signs to progressing into a capable backup or a starter, the idea of taking him off the roster in the final cut will cross their minds. His chances of staying on the team are just over a coin-flip. He could use a strong camp.
Possibility of making roster, 65%
Justin Geisinger - Suspected cut - 6,2 315 pounds ((4th year, Vanderbilt))
He is a player that has never started a game in his career. A 6th round pick out of Vanderbilt, it will be incredibly tough for him to stay on the roster ahead of Bernadeau. Like Bernadeau, he will need to have a strong camp to stay on the roster. And the Panthers have not invested anything in him other than a contract, so he will probably be cut at the end of training camp.
Possibility of making roster, 10%
C.J. Davis - Suspected cut Cut - 6,2 308 pounds ((Rookie, Pittsburgh))
With the loss of Hangartner, C.J. Davis was picked up as an interesting FA after the draft in order to serve and help players develop in training camp. Irregardless, it may be worth keeping an eye on him in training camp. He had eye-catching statistics during his stint with Pittsburgh, and he was projected as going as high in the 4th round in the draft before he fell like a log. Don't make any mistake, he was picked up as camp meat but he has the capability to perhaps find a place on the roster. He looks more like a center than he does a Guard, which contributes to him being placed at the bottom of this list.
If he has a strong first impact in training camp, he may have a chance especially with his versatility to play multiple positions. Otherwise, expect him to be cut during the first wave. He is a longshot, at best.
Possibility of making roster, 15%
I imagine we can take one good injury and not have any worries if Duke Robinson is ready to start. However, we'll have to be careful this year to keep our line healthy. With the loss of Bridges, Hangartner, and Omiyale stretches our talent along pretty thin. However, our starting five guys are pretty solid. If they can remain healthy, expect the return of Double Trouble for another decent showing.