The Right Guard

A four-year starter at the University of Alabama, offensive lineman Evan Mathis figured the transition to the NFL wouldn't be all that tough. But the Carolina Panthers third-round draft pick in 2005 quickly learned last season things weren't quite the same as in college where he could dominate smaller defensive linemen with his rare combination of size and athletic ability.

"The thing I learned last year as a rookie is that you have to know your technique because you can't just come in here (to the NFL) and try to muscle somebody," Mathis said. "You have to come in and know how to position your body. That was my problem last year - I was trying to maul people. I think I was overaggressive and trying to maul people as opposed to staying in the right position. I've learned that technique will get you much further than athletic ability."

Although he spent last season backing up starting guard Tutan Reyes, the Panthers liked what they saw on the practice field from Mathis and fellow rookie Geoff Hangartner, a fifth-round draft pick in 2005.

As a result, they didn't attempt to re-sign Reyes.

Right now, Mathis appears to be the guy, working with the first team at right guard at between newly acquired free agent center Justin Hartwig and veteran right tackle Jordan Gross.

Gross has seen Mathis improve as a player and is excited about playing next to him.

"On paper, no one is better than Evan on our team as far as what he can do physically. So if he can get it all together, he can be great," Gross said.

Gross said it's taken awhile for Mathis to realize the difference between playing at the college level and in the NFL, but said that it's now sunk in.

"When Evan first came in it was like the sky was the limit potentially, but he had a ways to go as far as understanding what it was all about here," Gross said. "That is the biggest change I've seen. He's started to realize that he will get better if he listens and learns."

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