Panthers OL Garry Williams grimaces in pain after injuring his leg in Thursday night's game. (Photo by John Clark)
CHARLOTTE – The Carolina Panthers suddenly have a huge hole at right guard as they prepare to finalize their 53-man roster.
Just days after putting starter Geoff Schwartz on injured reserve, the team lost potential starter Garry Williams for the season to a fractured ankle in Thursday night’s preseason finale against Pittsburgh.
Williams will have surgery on Friday and is expected to join Schwartz, wide receiver David Gettis, defensive tackle Ron Edwards, tight end Gary Barnidge, cornerback Cletis Gordon and offensive lineman Zack Williams on injured reserve.
Williams, who started 11 games last season at right tackle in place of Jeff Otah, was moved to right guard this week with Mackenzy Bernadeau nursing a turf toe injury. When most of the offensive starters left the game after the first touchdown drive, Williams stayed in the game to get some extra work at right guard. Seven plays into the second quarter Williams got his leg tangled in the pile. Trainers took one look at his leg and immediately rushed to get an air cast and hauled him into the locker room.
When asked if the team needs to bring in a guard, Rivera said, "We have to look closely at it. We have some young guys right now that we're taking a look at, and couple of them look good and we're excited about them."
Even if Williams didn't land the starting job at guard, he was going to be the team's swing tackle, basically their top reserve coming off the bench so his loss is fairly significant.
If Bernadeau were to start, Carolina's backups would likely consist of C.J. Davis and rookies Lee Ziemba, Byron Bell and Ryan Pugh. Davis hurt his knee in Thursday night’s game but he said afterward it’s not serious.
In all likelihood, the Panthers will look outside of the organization for help.
Mammoth 6-foot-6, 355-pound guard Leonard Davis, who played with the Dallas Cowboys, is already available. Davis, who turns 33 on Monday, has started 155 games during his 10-year career but was let go in a salary cap move.
He would make for an intriguing option when put next 6-foot-6, 300-pound Otah on the right side of the line.
EDWARDS HAS DROPSIES: WR Armanti Edwards helped kill two first half drives Thursday with dropped passes, the first coming on a fourth-and-2 and the second on third-and-10, although the latter was short of the first down marker.
Edwards is in no jeopardy of being cut, but he stands to lose some playing time if he continues to struggle catching the football.
“(Coach Rivera) just told me to come back to the ball and use my hands,” Edwards said. “I didn’t come back to the ball and I tried to catch it with my chest, and I allowed him to get his hands in.”
CLOWNEY MAKES A LEAP: David Clowney may have secured a roster spot Thursday night with a 41-yard touchdown reception against the Steelers.
“David Clowney really stood out today and showed his speed and his ability to get down field,” Rivera said.
Clowney, who said he ran a 4.35 at the NFL Scouting Combines when he was coming into the league, has looked good in practice but hadn’t done much in the games up until Thursday night.
Edwards, Steve Smith, Brandon LaFell and Legedu Naanee are likely to make the roster. So is rookie Kealoha Pilares, according to general manager Marty Hurney, despite the fact he’ll miss about a month with a high ankle sprain. That leaves Clowney, Charly Martin and Wallace Wright to battle for a sixth spot at wide receiver.
“From my first training camp my rookie year to this year, I always have the mindset that I’m going to make the team,” Clowney said. “If you have the mindset that you might not make the team and start worrying then it’s more likely to happen. I pray to God and if that’s God’s grace, then that’s what he wants me to be.”
FELTON CLAIMED, PLAYS: The Panthers claimed FB Jerome Felton off waivers from Detroit on Thursday and he arrived in Charlotte in time to play in the game, even picking up 4 yards on a run up the middle.
Felton (6-0, 246) played at Furman and started 16 games for the Lions over his first three seasons in the league. He could serve as a short-term replacement for Tony Fiammetta, who has missed the last three weeks while battling a concussion.
To make room on the roster, the Panthers released backup fullback Rashawn Jackson.
BALMER RELEASED: The Panthers didn’t take long to give up on Kentwan Balmer experiment.
One week after claiming Balmer off waivers from Seattle and singing his praises, the Panthers put the former first-round draft pick back on waivers. Publicly the Panthers said the defensive lineman “didn’t fit” with the team, but a source said Balmer was out of shape and didn’t seem mentally into it.
At the very least, the move didn’t cost the Panthers anything as they’re not responsible for his salary.
The Panthers could look at 14-year NFL veteran Pat Williams from the Minnesota Vikings as a potential replacement, especially after the young defensive line struggled in the first series against the Steelers, according to a league source.
MARE BLASTING THEM: Someone may want to check Olindo Mare’s shoes.
Carolina’s new kicker has been blasting the ball out of the end zone in the preseason with great regularity. After four touchbacks against Cincinnati, Mare drilled his first two kickoffs out of the end zone, the second one landing about five rows deep in the end zone.
It’s been a long time since the Panthers have seen anyone do that on a consistent basis, including kickoff specialist Rhys Lloyd.
ROSTER BATTLES: It’s interesting to note that RB Josh Vaughan has been seeing playing time ahead of Tyrell Sutton. It’s unclear if Vaughan is viewed as being ahead of Sutton on the depth chart, but we’ll find out Saturday night at 6 p.m. when the team turns in their cuts to the league.
SITTING IT OUT: Along with Fiammetta, the other players sitting out Thursday night’s game were RB DeAngelo Williams (rest), CB Brandon Hogan (knee), G Mackenzy Bernadeau (turf toe), LB Jon Beason (knee), WR Kealoha Pilares (ankle), DT Andre Neblett (concussion) and S Sherrod Martin (groin).