Linemen ready when called upon

With starting offensive tackles Jordan Gross and Jeff Otah out with injuries, the Carolina Panthers were forced to go to their bench yet again Sunday against Atlanta. And that has been no problem for the Panthers.

For the second time this season, the Panthers were forced to make multiple replacements on the offensive line and still won, beating the Falcons 24-9 at Bank of America Stadium.

The fact that the Panthers don't seem to miss a beat when a starting offensive lineman goes down -- let alone two in the same game -- is a reflection of the familiarity Jeremy Bridges and Geoff Hangartner have with the offense.

It's a little like a repair man trying to fix a broken washing machine. It makes the job easier when you have the right replacement parts in your truck.

When Jordan Gross went down with a concussion Sunday it forced Travelle Wharton to move to left tackle and Hangartner to take over at left guard. Bridges, for the second time this season, stepped in at right tackle when Jeff Otah sprained his ankle.

In both cases, the players had spent time at those positions before.

Bridges started 14 games at right tackle for Carolina in 2006 and 10 last year at right guard, so he knows the offense. And while Hangartner is viewed as a versatile backup, many forget he's started 21 games for the Panthers over the last four seasons at guard and center.

So it didn't surprise coach John Fox that both stepped in and performed well Sunday against the Falcons.

"That is what happens when you start developing players," Fox said. "A lot was made this past off-season about (offensive linemen) being in different spots this year than last year -- but at least they were with us.

"Last year a lot was made of us being with four quarterbacks; well the problem was none of them had been with us the year before other than Jake. Some of them hadn't even been with us at camp earlier that year. That is more the problem when it's guys you just signed a week before."

Nonetheless, the Panthers might have been in a heap of trouble had they suffered another injury on the line.

With only seven linemen active, they were one sprained knee or torn biceps away from moving 6-foot-3, 260-pound tight end Jeff King to tackle, which would have severely limited what plays coordinator Jeff Davidson could have run.

"I'm not real comfortable with that," Fox said of playing King at tackle. "It's kind of like our third quarterback right now, which I won't mention who that is. I'm not real comfortable with that either."

For all four games this season the Panthers have dressed seven offensive linemen, choosing to deactivate tackle Frank Omiyale and guard Mackenzy Bernadeau. Some teams choose to activate eight linemen as an insurance policy.

When asked if the injuries in Week 1 to San Diego and again this past Sunday will force him to rethink adding an extra offensive lineman to the active roster, Fox replied, "You always think through things and you have no idea what is going to happen during a game. As you get a barrage of injuries at one spot anybody or everybody is in trouble as far as guys who have had reps there. You try to do the best you can and be prepared and hopefully they respond."

Considering backups like Bridges and Hangartner get only about 20 to 30 percent of the snaps with Carolina's offense (they get most of their work running the scout team offense), Fox is pleased with how they've stepped in and performed.

Wharton probably had it the toughest on Sunday.

After missing the last two games with a sprained knee, he didn't get many reps last week at tackle. But once again, Wharton is a guy who has played a bunch at left tackle in the past, so he's comfortable there in a pinch, again proving Fox's theory that keeping guys in the same system can be valuable.

"We are all in the same meeting rooms and we are out there practicing," Wharton said. "During practice guys take reps doing this type of thing. One guy will be out and another will go in. That kind of prepared us. If anything happens, we know, any play can be your last. Just being prepared, it showed that everybody was ready."

Gross and Otah are listed as day-to-day for this week.

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