NFC South: Garry Williams

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- There's no question Cam Newton will start in the Carolina Panthers' Sept. 7 opener at Tampa Bay, but uncertainty lingers over who will protect him.

Royster
Scott
Chandler
Most of Carolina's 22 starters are set, but Thursday night's exhibition finale will have a big impact on who protects the ailing quarterback (fractured ribs) on the right side of the line.

Rookie right guard Trai Turner (groin) is out for the second straight game, and Chris Scott has played well enough to be considered the Week 1 starter.

Scott started eight games last season, all but one at right guard, before a knee injury forced him to miss time. His biggest issue since returning for offseason workouts has been conditioning. He's got that under control and has impressed the coaches.

"Chris has worked himself into position and we'll see how it goes," coach Ron Rivera said.

Nate Chandler began training camp in a heated battle with Byron Bell for the left tackle job. When Bell secured that spot after the Aug. 17 preseason win over Kansas City, Chandler settled in at right tackle.

However, Chandler's lingering knee injury and inconsistency as a pass blocker have opened the door for veteran Garry Williams. Chandler will start against Pittsburgh, but as Rivera reminded this is a big game for him to prove he's earned the job.

Other positions up for grab are strong side linebacker and nickel back. Veteran Chase Blackburn is the returning starter on the strong side, and he missed last week's game with a back injury. He's been pushed by A.J. Klein.

Charles Godfrey entered training camp as the leading candidate to be the nickel back, but rookie Bene' Benwikere has played well enough that both will play there at times until one earns it outright.

"There are three to six positions up for grabs," said Rivera, without being specific.

Rivera said the starters will play through the first quarter against Pittsburgh. Defensive end Charles Johnson (hamstring) will not make the trip, but end Greg Hardy (shoulder) will suit up and be evaluated before game time.

Both are expected to be ready for the opener.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera reached deep into his limited French dialect to name Byron Bell as his starting left tackle.

Bell
"He's done such a good job, I'm going to say it's a fait accompli," Rivera said after Tuesday's rain-interrupted practice. "He and I will sit down and have a conversation about it. I'm going to talk to the coaches to make sure we're all set, we're all confident, we're all comfortable.

"[But] he's done a really nice job."

If you're not as versed in French as Rivera, "fait accompli" means an it's an accomplished fact.

That Bell won the job clears up one of the biggest questions entering training camp as the Panthers looked to replace the retired Jordan Gross. Bell, who started at right tackle the past three seasons after being signed in 2011 as an undrafted rookie out of New Mexico, won the job over Nate Chandler.

"He's done some stuff on the left side that he didn't do on the right side that have been impressive," Rivera said of Bell, reminding he is a natural left-hander. "His punch is a little better, his first step is a lot better. He's working off his left side.

"Having seen that, I have confidence he can do the job for us."

Chandler will start at right tackle unless the knee injury that kept him out of Tuesday's practice keeps flaring up as it occasionally has the past couple of weeks.

"Nate has done a great job, too," Rivera said. "Look at what our lines have done in the [preseason] games. We give up a sack or two here, but the thing that has been more than anything else is we've missed some protections rather than guys have been flat-out beaten.

"That's a positive."

The Panthers also have developed decent depth with veteran Garry Williams able to back up at both tackle and guard spots. Chris Scott, whose conditioning was an issue during offseason workouts, also has done well.

Scott replaced rookie Trai Turner (groin) with the first team at right guard on Tuesday. Rivera said it was too early to tell if Turner would be ready for Friday night's preseason game at New England.

"We've got a good group of guys right now," Rivera said. "Knock on wood, we've got some decent depth."

Panthers Camp Report: Day 10

August, 5, 2014
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SPARTANBURG, S.C. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of the Carolina Panthers training camp from Wofford College:
  • You've read this before, but I keep repeating it because it keeps happening. Rookie wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin had another big day, catching two touchdown passes on the left side. Both were high, and both required the 6-foot-5 receiver to adjust his body in midair. I haven't seen Benjamin drop a pass in team drills, and nobody else I've spoken with has, either. He wasn't perfect on Tuesday, though. On what was supposed to be an alley-oop pass near the goal line he apparently didn't run the route correctly, forcing Cam Newton to look for another receiver. It resulted in an incompletion. Newton and wide receivers coach Ricky Proehl immediately spoke to Benjamin about it, demonstrating the kind of communication and chemistry that has been strong.
  • Speaking of Newton, long-time NFL talent evaluator Gil Brandt said Newton threw the ball Tuesday "as well as I've ever seen him." So for all those that predicted the three-plus months Newton missed while rehabilitating left ankle surgery would impact his timing in training camp, forget it. Newton has had moments where he's been off, but every quarterback does. For the most part he's been sharp.
  • Byron Bell literally got a leg up on the competition for the left tackle job because his primary competition, Nate Chandler, was out with a minor knee issue. Coach Ron Rivera said Chandler should be back on Wednesday, but it's starting to look like Bell will win the job. With Chandler out, Garry Williams stepped in at right tackle and did a nice job. Other key players among the 12 who missed practice with injuries were defensive end Charles Johnson (hamstring), running backs Jonathan Stewart (hamstring) and Kenjon Barner (back), and free safety Roman Harper (toe). Stewart hasn't practiced since camp started and will be evaluated again on Wednesday, but Rivera said he ran well on Tuesday. The team is being cautious with Harper so he doesn't develop turf toe. Defensive end Greg Hardy (shoulder) returned to practice after missing the last two.
  • Charles Godfrey opened as the starting nickel back over rookie Bene' Benwikere and was immediately beaten on a corner route by Benjamin. He later came back and made a good read on a pass over the middle, but dropped what should have been an interception. It appears if Godfrey is to help this team it will be at the nickel and not as an every down corner.
  • I asked Rivera to name a few players who have practiced well but not gotten the recognition that some of the high-profile players have. He started with undrafted wide receiver Marcus Lucas out of Missouri. He also mentioned backup center Brian Folkerts, referring to his nickname of "Caveman Center" with a story I'll share at a later date. He also likes what backup defensive end Mario Addison and backup safety Colin Jones have done.
  • The Panthers practice Wednesday at 9:25 a.m.

Camp preview: Carolina Panthers

July, 17, 2014
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» NFC Preview: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

 NFL Nation's David Newton examines the three biggest issues facing the Carolina Panthers heading into training camp.

Offensive line: In many ways, the success of the Panthers comes down to how well this revamped group comes together. With left tackle Jordan Gross retired, there's a chance only center Ryan Kalil returns to the position he started at the end of last season. It's not as dire as many think, though. The Panthers are high on starting right tackle Byron Bell or right guard Nate Chandler moving into Gross' spot to protect Cam Newton's blind side. The loser of that battle probably will start on the right side. Carolina also has veteran Garry Williams, coming off an ACL injury, ready to play either tackle or guard. The Panthers love rookie Trai Turner at right guard and Chris Scott has experience there if needed. Amini Silatolu had won the starting left guard spot last season before suffering a knee injury in the fourth game. He has 18 career starts, so he's solid. It all comes down to chemistry for a team that wants to rely on the run and give Newton freedom to improvise as he does so well.

Wide receivers: No position has drawn more scrutiny during the offseason at Carolina with the top-four receivers from 2013 gone. The biggest reason was the decision to let all-time leading receiver Steve Smith go. When Carolina didn't sign a big-time name to replace Smith, the naysayers became more outspoken. But here's my take. The Panthers are better at receiver than they were a year ago. Nothing against Smith, but at 35 he was no better than a No. 2 receiver and at the end of his career. Brandon LaFell, Ted Ginn Jr. and Domenik Hixon really weren't big losses when you look at it closely. Hixon wouldn't have been a loss at all were it not for the game-winning touchdown against New Orleans. The key here will be chemistry, but first-round pick Kelvin Benjamin looks like a red zone beast at 6-foot-5 and 240 pounds. Free agent signees Jerricho Cotchery and Jason Avant are solid possession receivers, and more dependable than the players they replaced. Who steps up as the fourth receiver will be the biggest question, whether it's free agent Tiquan Underwood or one of the young receivers. The Panthers plan to run a lot more two tight-end sets makes that less critical.

Cam Newton: I was going to go with the secondary here. The Panthers are replacing three-fourths of their starters. But that position is as good or better than it was this time last season, so I'm going with the franchise quarterback here. The two-time Pro Bowl selection is coming off surgery to tighten the ligaments in his left ankle. The diagnosis is the ankle will be better than ever, which makes him even more of a threat as a runner since he'll be pain free for the first time since college. I mention Newton here not because of the ankle, but because his ability to take his game to another level will be more important than ever with changes to the line and receiving corps. The leadership and consistency he showed last season will be called upon even more. Just because of the changes he can't be lulled into thinking he has to do it all as he did his first two seasons. But as former left tackle Jordan Gross said last season, as Newton goes so goes the Panthers.

ORLANDO, Fla. -- One by one reporters from around the NFL stopped by the table of Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera, who under strict orders from his wife was eating a healthy plate of fruit at Wednesday's NFC coaches' breakfast.

One by one they asked about wide receiver Steve Smith and Carolina's decision to cut its all-time leading receiver, which Rivera and management believe was healthy for the Panthers.

The rest of those at the NFL owners meeting apparently aren't so sure. I've had my doubts as well. So Rivera spent well over half of his 45-minute interview period talking about the newest addition to the Baltimore Ravens.

He finally had enough.

He finally became animated -- at least for him -- and defended general manager Dave Gettleman's decision to part ways with one of the most popular players in team history. He talked passionately about how Gettleman took a hit for the team.

He expressed his frustration over reports that it was personal and that Smith was a distraction to the locker room. He made it clear that it was neither.

Finally.

Had he done this two weeks ago, we might have moved on to another topic for the defending NFC South champions.

And it is time to move on.

The Panthers have. They believe they are headed in the right direction even though much of the league believes they are headed for a hard crash after a 12-4 season.

Smith
That is understandable. Even Rivera was a bit nervous when it became obvious the Panthers would not have their top four wide receivers from last season and quarterback Cam Newton needed ankle surgery.

But as I said early in the process, what did they really lose? Not that Rivera wanted to lose Brandon LaFell, or even Ted Ginn Jr. But when he explained that Carolina averaged more than 100 yards rushing in 15 of 16 games last season, and in doing so the wide receivers collectively averaged 10 catches a game, you knew what he meant.

Ten catches? That's not much to replace.

The likes of veteran Jerricho Cotchery, along with his kiddie corps of Tiquan Underwood, Marvin McNutt, Tavarres King and whoever else you want to throw into the mix, surely can catch 10 passes cumulatively.

Now, many of those have to be the big catches. While Smith's numbers were down last season, he still made many of the big third- or fourth-down receptions that made 2013's turnaround possible.

None were bigger than the 19-yard catch into double coverage on fourth-and-10 from deep in Miami territory with 2:33 remaining. That led to a last-minute 20-16 victory that extended Carolina's winning streak to seven straight.

But surely Cotchery, 31, can replace that. He had 10 touchdown catches last season for Pittsburgh. That is more than Smith (4) and No. 2 LaFell (5) combined for in 2013.

A funny aside. The Panthers never intended to go an entire week after releasing Smith without signing a wide receiver, which added to the anxiety of many. They wanted to bring Cotchery in early, but he was on vacation and couldn't.

[+] EnlargeRoman Harper
Stacy Revere/Getty ImagesCoach Ron Rivera is confident the additions of veterans like safety Roman Harper will keep Carolina on track despite its losses in free agency.
"I really do wish people and hope people will understand there's a process," Rivera said of the team's plan. "If you do things the right way you have a chance going forward. That to me is what we've done."

And the Panthers aren't done. They plan to add other pieces in free agency and the draft. Some of them will be key.

But with the front seven of the league's No. 2 defense intact, and with Newton expected to be better than ever after surgery for a left ankle issue that has been lingering since college, Rivera has just as much or more to work with now than he had a year ago.

It's not like he has the Jacksonville Jaguars' roster.

There still are some key areas -- the secondary and offensive line at the top of the list -- that must be addressed. If the season started today, right tackle Byron Bell likely would start at left tackle, with Nate Chandler or Garry Williams on the right side.

But is that so bad? Rivera really likes Bell, who played left tackle in college, even though public sentiment is that this is a disaster. Sometimes you have to trust the coach's instinct.

The Panthers already have a Pro Bowl center in Ryan Kalil, and the guard situation is solid with Amini Silatolu and Edmund Kugbila back from injuries that kept them from starting last season.

So the line could be as good or better than a year ago.

The biggest concern in the secondary is the nickel back. Rivera likes the competition he has for the two cornerback spots in Antoine Cason, Melvin White, Josh Norman and Josh Thomas.

He believes Charles Godfrey, if he returns healthy from last season's Achilles injury, can play the nickel as well as free safety. He's thrilled to have New Orleans free agent Roman Harper at strong safety, and if Godfrey doesn't return, Rivera has Robert Lester and a few other young players who played well in spurts last season.

It's really no different than it was this past August when the big questions were the offensive line and secondary.

So Rivera is upbeat. He's ready to talk about something -- no offense -- other than Smith.

"We're headed in the direction of being a better team," he insisted.

Think of it like his breakfast. Sometimes you have to eat fresh fruit instead of bacon and eggs that taste good but aren't exactly good for you in the long run.
No member of the Carolina Panthers 'offensive line took more heat last season than right tackle Byron Bell. Now, it appears, he'll get a chance to prove if he can protect quarterback Cam Newton's blind side.

Bell
The Panthers on Monday tendered the restricted free agent, as well as exclusive rights player Chris Scott.

This occurred shortly after Carolina re-signed offensive lineman Garry Williams to a one-year deal and fullback/tight end Richie Brockel to a two-year deal.

Coach Ron Rivera mentioned Bell as a possible candidate to replace Jordan Gross at left tackle when the 11-year veteran retired a few weeks ago.

Bell, 6-foot-5 and 340 pounds, started 14 games at right tackle this past season and has started 41 of 47 career games at Carolina. He first came under fire last season after Buffalo's Mario Williams had 4.5 sacks from his side in the second game.

The heat continued most of the season. Although Bell at times played well, Pro Football Focus gave him a season rating of minus-2.8. To put that in perspective, Gross had a rating of 33.5.

That's not the kind of rating a franchise quarterback wants to hear.

Nevertheless, Rivera and Gross said Bell played much better than people gave him credit for, and both endorsed him as a possibility at left tackle.

Filling the left tackle position from within would be a huge benefit for Carolina, which had only about $7 million left under the salary cap before the day began. With a strong draft class at tackle, the Panthers also might look to fill one of the two starting spots with a first- or second-round pick.

And don't forget, Williams has started 13 games at right tackle.

Scott (6-4 and 320 pounds) gives the Panthers more depth at guard. He started the first eight games this past season -- one at left and seven at right -- before suffering a knee injury against Atlanta in October.

Monday's moves won't draw big headlines, but they could mean the Panthers won't be heavily involved in free agency for offensive linemen -- at least not a high-priced tackle.

That's big considering the needs for upgrades at cornerback and wide receiver.
The Carolina Panthers secured two of their own free agents Monday in an attempt to shore up the running game.

Offensive lineman Garry Williams, scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent, signed a one-year deal. Tight end/fullback Richie Brockel, a restricted free agent, got a two-year deal.

Williams could figure into Carolina's plans at guard and tackle. He was the starter at right guard entering last season but suffered a season-ending knee injury in the opener against Seattle.

He has 21 starts since signing as an undrafted free agent from Kentucky in 2009. His presence at right guard gives Carolina more flexibility if it chooses to give Nate Chandler, who was working at tackle before becoming the regular at right guard due to injuries, a shot at replacing left tackle Jordan Gross.

Williams also has started 13 games at right tackle, so he could figure into the mix there if the Panthers choose to move starter Byron Bell into Gross' spot.

Coach Ron Rivera said at Gross' recent retirement news conference that Bell and Chandler could be in the mix.

Bell also is a restricted free agent, so look for an announcement on him before free agency begins at 4 p.m. ET Tuesday.

Brockel is a big contributor on special teams as well as a factor in the running game when Carolina brings in a second tight end or fullback for blocking.

Panthers' mood surprisingly upbeat

September, 9, 2013
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The mood in the Carolina Panthers' locker room on Monday was unusually upbeat for a team that 24 hours earlier lost its opener and its starting right guard for the season.

Payton
Rivera
There was a sense of confidence, a sense the team still can have a successful season. That wasn't fully there a year ago.

"Yes, there is disappointment in themselves,'' coach Ron Rivera said as he evaluated the 12-7 loss to the Seattle Seahawks. "I really felt in talking to a lot of guys they were disappointed in how certain things went on.

"The thing I told them is as we watch this tape, be honest. If you played 59 plays well and you played one play bad that one play should really eat at you. I think a lot of guys are going to respond the right way.''

Center Ryan Kalil said players understand more of what they have to do to be a winning team than they did this time a year ago during a 1-6 start.

"There's more of a feeling of what our identity is and what we can do and what we're capable of moving forward,'' he said. "The last couple of years [we were] still kind of unsure of where we're going, what we're doing.

"It doesn't feel like that this year. Obviously, it's not the ideal start to what we want to get done, but there were a lot of good things on film and a lot of things we saw that I'm not so sure we kind of knew what was going on early on last year.''

Losing right guard Garry Williams to a torn ACL/MCL in his left knee won't help. But the good news is Amini Silatolu, the starting left guard who missed the opener with a hamstring injury, is set to return to practice without restrictions on Wednesday.

And Chris Scott, who started at left guard before moving over to replace Williams, is more natural at right guard. He graded out perfectly in pass protection against Seattle from the right side.

So Carolina, with veteran Travelle Wharton in the mix, has a decent three-player rotation.

That Scott and Wharton helped the Panthers rush for 134 yards on 26 carries also was encouraging.

What disappointed Rivera was the number of mistakes and that they didn't come from one person that easily could be replaced.

"When you have 45 players and there is 130 plays, that means there is 45 bad plays,'' Rivera said. "Those are things we have to correct. The disappointment is not necessarily that we lost, but how we lost, that we didn't play smart football.

"That's what bothers me more than anything else, and I just expressed that to the players.''

They seemed to get it, because the mood was surprisingly upbeat.
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.''
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Travelle Wharton has an opportunity to make an instant impact on the Carolina Panthers' injury-plagued offensive line after the team signed the 6-foot-4, 316-pound free agent Sunday to a one-year deal.

Wharton likely will compete with Garry Williams for the starting spot at right guard, but he also could factor in at left guard, where starter Amini Silatolu already has been ruled out of Thursday's preseason finale against Pittsburgh with a hamstring injury. Fourth-round draft pick Edmund Kugbila also is back on the sideline with a strained hamstring the day after his first practice after missing most of spring drills and training camp.

Coach Ron Rivera said after Sunday's practice that Chris Scott would start at left guard against the Steelers.

This is a homecoming for Wharton. A third-round pick in 2004, he spent his first eight seasons with Carolina, starting 99 games at guard and tackle.

He was released in 2012 and picked up by Cincinnati, where he suffered a season-ending knee injury. He hasn't played since.

The Panthers have struggled on the line in their three preseason games. Leading rusher DeAngelo Williams is averaging only 2.9 yards per carry. Kenjon Barner, second on the team in rushing, has a 2.8 average. The first-team offense has scored only one touchdown.

Wharton gives Carolina 79 players on its roster, meaning four players must be cut by Tuesday afternoon.

What to watch: Panthers-Ravens

August, 22, 2013
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Three things to watch as the Carolina Panthers play the Baltimore Ravens on Thursday at 8 p.m. ET in a game that will be broadcast on ESPN:

Cam Newton and Jimmy Clausen. Newton will get his most extensive playing time of the preseason, and the Panthers hope he and the offense can get in a rhythm. Newton has led only one touchdown drive this preseason. Clausen is expected to play with the second team. That’s not a sign that Clausen has a chance to beat out Derek Anderson for the backup job. It’s more of a sign that the Panthers want to take a good look at Clausen before deciding if they want to carry two or three quarterbacks on the roster.

The receivers. Armanti Edwards, Domenik Hixon and Joe Adams aren’t expected to play due to injuries. That means more playing time for Ted Ginn Jr. and David Gettis, who are having strong preseasons and have a chance to be among the top backups at receiver.

Garry Williams. He’s been getting the first-team work at right guard since the team released veteran Geoff Hangartner. Williams needs a strong showing because it still is possible the team could bring in a veteran as other teams trim their rosters.
The Carolina Panthers are making it very clear they plan on first-round draft pick Star Lotulelei being an opening-day starter at defensive tackle.

Some teams go out of their way to show courtesy to veterans, but the Panthers aren’t throwing out any smokescreens. They put out their first unofficial depth chart of the preseason Monday afternoon and Lotulelei is listed with the first team. He’s the only rookie listed as a starter.

The rest of Carolina’s depth chart doesn’t contain any surprises, but let’s take a look at a few positions where there still is competition. After releasing right guard Geoff Hangartner last week, the Panthers are listing Garry Williams as the starter and rookie Edmund Kugbila as the top backup. If Kugbila can get healthy, he has a chance to start.

The defensive backfield also is a key area of competition with free safety Charles Godfrey as the only sure starter. Mike Mitchell is listed as the No. 1 strong safety with D.J. Campbell at No. 2. Veterans Drayton Florence and Captain Munnerlyn are listed as the starting cornerbacks with Josh Thomas and Josh Norman as the top backups.

Ted Ginn Jr. is listed as the top punt and kickoff returner, but I’m expecting Kealoha Pilares, Joe Adams and Armanti Edwards to get some work in this area during the preseason games.

Panthers shake up offensive line

August, 1, 2013
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The Carolina Panthers pulled a bit of a surprise Thursday when they released Geoff Hangartner, who had worked with the first-team offensive line at two different positions this training camp.

Hangartner had been working mostly at right guard, but worked with the first team at center Tuesday when Ryan Kalil was given the day off. Hangartner split last season between guard and center.

But Hangartner didn’t have a great 2012 season. I’m thinking the Panthers didn’t see much improvement early in camp and decided to part ways with a guy that was scheduled to count $1.5 million against the cap.

The Panthers did meet with veteran lineman Travelle Wharton last week, but have yet to sign him. It seems more likely the Panthers are content to go with what they already have on the roster.

Garry Williams and Jeff Byers are both versatile linemen and can play guard. This move could be a sign that rookie Edmund Kugbila is close to being healthy after missing most of the offseason program and the early part of training camp with injuries. It seems like the Panthers have high hopes for Kugbila. Even in the June minicamp, a limited Kugbila was getting some reps with the first team as the Panthers walked through their plays.

Byron Bell leads Carolina's pool

March, 13, 2013
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Right tackle Byron Bell led the Carolina Panthers in money earned from the 2012 performance-based pool, which is designed to reward players with low base salaries that get significant playing time.

Bell earned an extra $255,000, according to league sources.

The other Panthers to earn more than $100,000 from the performance pool were cornerback Josh Norman ($242,000), cornerback Josh Thomas ($180,000), defensive end Greg Hardy ($171,000), defensive end Frank Alexander ($139,000), offensive lineman Jeff Byers ($132,000), guard Amini Silatolu ($125,000), receiver Brandon LaFell ($122,000) and offensive lineman Garry Williams ($101,000).

Escalators and the NFC South

February, 19, 2013
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One of the many reasons the New Orleans Saints are in a difficult salary-cap situation is that six of their players triggered escalators that will cost the team nearly $4 million in 2013.

Kicker Garrett Hartley earned a $1.432 million escalator and safety Malcolm Jenkins earned a $1.25 million raise. The other Saints to hit escalators were receiver Lance Moore ($100,000), tackle Zach Strief ($300,000), tight end Jimmy Graham ($700,000) and defensive tackle Tom Johnson ($195,000).

I’ve also got the numbers on escalators that were triggered elsewhere in the NFC South. In most cases, the escalators were based on players meeting specified playing-time levels in 2012. But, in some cases, the escalators were triggered by playing time in previous years.

Atlanta’s Michael Turner, who could end up being a salary-cap casualty, had his base salary escalate by $1.4 million. Defensive end John Abraham triggered a $1 million escalator. The other two Falcons to earn escalators for this season are defensive tackle Corey Peters ($600,000) and cornerback Asante Samuel ($200,000).

Carolina defensive end Greg Hardy had his team’s largest escalator ($775,000). Receiver Brandon LaFell earned a $700,000 escalator and offensive lineman Garry Williams will pick up an extra $125,000.

The Tampa Bay players to hit escalators were offensive lineman Jeremy Zuttah ($250,000), tackle Demar Dotson ($500,000), receiver Mike Williams ($800,000), offensive lineman Ted Larsen ($700,000), safety Cody Grimm ($625,000, which was based on his 2010 playing time) and fullback Erik Lorig ($425,000).

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