Panthers hope Wharton helps struggling O-line
Travelle Wharton could go from late-summer acquisition to opening day starter for the Carolina Panthers.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera said Monday last year's starting left guard Amini Silatolu "more than likely" will miss the Sept. 8 regular-season opener with a hamstring injury, opening an opportunity for Wharton to step in and start at his old position.
The 32-year-old Wharton, who started 99 games for the Panthers from 2004-11, re-signed with his former team on Sunday after injuries left the offensive line depleted.
"We've had a couple of guys get nicked up and it's important to have a veteran guy around," Rivera said. "We went out and got a guy that knows our system and knows the players. I think that's important."
Silatolu injured his hamstring in last week's win over the Ravens, while rookie draft pick Edmund Kugbila hasn't been able to stay on the field also because of a hamstring injury.
Earlier in the preseason, Carolina lost backup right tackle Bruce Campbell to a season-ending shoulder injury.
Wharton brings versatility and depth.
The 6-foot-4, 315-pound Wharton can play both guard and tackle positions. He played mostly at left guard during his tenure in Carolina and returned there for Monday's practice.
Wharton said he doesn't care where he plays — he's just happy to be back on the field.
He said he had several offers from other NFL teams, but chose Carolina so he could remain at home with his family.
He still lives in the same Charlotte neighborhood as close fiend Jordan Gross, the team's starting left tackle. For years the two men carpooled to work and they resumed that tradition on Monday.
"It's great, I only have to pay for half of the gas," Gross said.
Wharton said he could barely sleep Sunday night in anticipation of getting back on the field.
He was cut by Carolina after the 2011 season because he had a large salary cap number. He signed a free agent contract last spring with the Cincinnati Bengals.
However, he never played a regular season game for the Bengals, tearing the ACL in his right knee in the third play of the preseason. He was placed on injured reserve and the Bengals terminated his contract in July.
Wharton said the terminology of the Panthers offense has changed a little since 2011, but he said it's all coming back to him.
"The guys are helping me out, but there are things I'm remembering," Wharton said. "I'm trying to get it down. I don't want to mess up. You don't want to be that guy to mess it up. I'm going to go back (in the film room) and study some more, go home and study some more and wake up tomorrow and study some more."
Said Gross: "Travelle is a guy you can bring in who knows the offense. He was already in and out with the first group today, so that to me was pretty impressive."
Carolina's offensive line could use some help.
They've been the subject of criticism this preseason given the first-team offense has only scored one touchdown and the injuries haven't helped matters.
But Rivera doesn't think Carolina's offensive line will be its biggest weakness.
"I'm very pleased with them," Rivera said. "We've had opportunities. If we correct those things and make those better we be as explosive as we've been."
Gross agrees with his coach.
"It's not like I'm flipping out about it," Gross said. "We played the Ravens last week and it had the feel of a real game. It's not like we were playing a high school team. So we've played Baltimore and Philadelphia, which has a good defense. I think that's a pretty good warm-up for Seattle."