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Saturday, August 31, 2013
Panthers' O-line to be focus on cut day

By David Newton

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Good pass protection. Decent run blocking. A quick touchdown.

Who were those guys on the offensive line in the Carolina Panthers' preseason finale?

You probably needed a roster to keep track since most of the starters got Thursday night off or moved to a different position in an effort to develop depth and flexibility during the 25-10 victory over Pittsburgh. And it wasn't like they were facing the "Steel Curtain'' of yesteryear.

But the end result was promising for a unit that has been much maligned throughout the preseason due to injuries. Even though only left guard Travelle Wharton started at the position, he'll likely play on opening day.

"There were a lot of good things that went on and a lot of real positives for us,'' coach Ron Rivera said.

Rivera hasn't said that often during the preseason, and it's still too early to tell whether this unit will be an improvement over last season's that wasn't highly thought off.

The line definitely will get a large dose of attention as general manager Dave Gettleman and the staff trim the roster to 53 on Saturday. Expect them to keep nine players, with two -- guard Amini Silatolu and guard/center Jeff Byers -- nursing injuries that could sideline them for the opener.

Veteran Jordan Gross is set as the left tackle, with Wharton likely to start beside him as he did for many of his first eight seasons in the league at Carolina before being waived. Three-time Pro Bowl selection Ryan Kalil is again at center, with Garry Williams expected to start at right guard and Byron Bell at right tackle.

After that, depth becomes a concern, so the thinking on cut day is strength in numbers.

"We're in a lot better spot than we were in a couple of weeks ago,'' observed Gross, one of those who was given Thursday night off.

One reason is Wharton. Signed on Sunday as a free agent, the former and now current Panther played six snaps against Pittsburgh, the first time he'd been in a game in a year after suffering a knee injury. He more than held his own and the drive ended with a 35-yard touchdown pass from Derek Anderson to Ted Ginn, so that was a positive.

"He's a big addition for us,'' Gross said of Wharton. "As soon as he came in the building everybody knew he was a guy we could count on.''

Whether quarterback Cam Newton can count on this group to give him the protection he needs to take the offense to another level remains unclear.

"We're getting better,'' Anderson said. "Obviously, Travelle's going to help us a lot. Every year is different. You've got to evolve and fit guys in where they fit.''