2012 Offseason Question Marks - Guard Edition

Protecting Cam Newton will be key to the Panthers' offensive success moving forward.

The Carolina Panthers, while pressed against the cap, have done a decent job of re-signing key depth while adding versatile free agents to bolster their special teams (and hopefully push a few of their starters). Last offseason, the Panthers signed most of their young core players to lengthy contract extensions. This year was more about re-signing proven backups and adding special teamers to the mix.

With more significant needs elsewhere, Marty Hurney and company had to make a couple of sacrifices, none more substantial than long-time starting guard Travelle Wharton. In June, having cut Wharton will save the Panthers more than $3 million towards the cap. While the move seemed necessary given Wharton's sizable contract and middling play, one of the most important aspects of the offensive line is continuity, and the move broke up the left side of a line that had played together at a high level for the last four seasons.

Perhaps the biggest challenge facing the Panthers this offseason will be replacing Travelle Wharton. When the move was made six or seven weeks ago, the Panthers had yet to re-sign Geoff Hangartner, so there were holes at both guard positions, and only one potential replacement on the roster in T/G Byron Bell. Hangartner will most certainly be inked in at one of the guard spots (and might be making a move from RG to LG). And although the addition of G Mike Pollak has flown under the radar, the former Colt and 2nd round draft pick looks to compete for a starting spot. There is a wildcard in all of this. Find out what it is, and sound off with your opinion...

After the jump...

Three weeks ago, the Panthers traded RB Mike Goodson to the Raiders for T Bruce Campbell. Last week on Panthers' Pulse, Hurney insisted that Campbell would be used at tackle, citing his build and athleticism. If Bell and Pollak can't sort out the 2nd guard spot, the best move could be inserting Campbell at RT and moving T Jeff Otah to RG. At guard, Otah might have a better chance of staying healthy, as he won't be required to do as much drop-stepping trying to stay in front of a DE or OLB in the passing game. Otah's strengths could still be showcased at guard, particularly on the right-side, where many offenses like having a mauler -- a brute in the running game.

The Panthers have never really been known to get too cute with position shuffling, but this is one move that could provide dividends. A hidden benefit could be the financial ramifications, as re-signing Otah as a guard in 2013 would probably cost about 60-75% of what it might cost if he remains at tackle. The argument could be made that the Panthers could not afford to re-sign Otah as a tackle, making a move like this even more pertinent.

Whichever way the cookie crumbles, it is hard to entertain a scenario where the Panthers use a high draft pick on a guard. With Bell, Pollack and Campbell in the fold, look for the open spot at guard to be filled by someone already on the roster.

Don't forget to vote in the poll below, and feel free to elaborate upon your musings in the comments section.

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