Geoff Schwartz will be changing positions on Sunday. (Photo by John Clark)
CHARLOTTE – Quarterback isn't the only change in store for the Carolina Panthers offense this week.
Mackenzy Bernadeau, who has started the last five games at right guard, told reporters on Thursday that he's been benched for Sunday's game against San Francisco. Geoff Schwartz will move inside to Bernadeau's former spot, while second-year pro Garry Williams will make his first NFL start at right tackle.
The move essentially sets the stage for Jeff Otah’s return, as the Panthers were expected to move Schwartz inside to guard once Otah returned to the lineup to give them more size up front.
"It's a move they decided to make trying to put the best players on the field," Bernadeau said. "Hopefully that is what works best for us. We just have to go ahead with that.”
When asked what he was told about the change, Bernadeau said, “They came up to me and told me I was playing pretty well, but not up to the best of my ability. Little things are holding me back, but nothing crazy. Right now we just need a win and we need to make some changes and that is one of them."
Earlier in the week, the Panthers announced Matt Moore would start in place of Jimmy Clausen at quarterback to help jump-start an offense that ranks 32nd in league in points per game, yards per game and first downs per game.
Schwartz gives the winless Panthers a bigger body inside which should help a running game that has fallen to 26th in the league after finishing third a year ago. Carolina averaged 156.1 yards per game on the ground last season with Keydrick Vincent at right guard, but are averaging less than 100 this season. In fact, the Panthers still don't have a 100-yard rusher this year.
Schwartz is listed at 6-foot-6 and 331 pounds, while Bernadeau is 6-foot-4 and 308 pounds. Although he's practiced at guard, this will be Schwartz's first start in the league at that spot. He played tackle in college at Oregon as has remained there ever since coming into the NFL. He's been forced to stay there ever since Otah re-injured his knee in June.
Williams, who made the team last year as an undrafted rookie but rarely played, said he's "very excited" about the chance to start at right tackle.
"This is my first ever start and it's the opportunity I've been waiting on," Williams said. "I'm going to go out and give it everything I've got to help us get a win."
Williams said he feels like he's improved since last year.
"Sitting back and observing helped me out a lot," Williams said. "I feel like I'm ready to go. I've been practicing hard."
Berneadeau vows to keep working hard in hopes of returning to the lineup.
"I have to work on everything in my game, specifically my run-blocking," Bernadeau said. "That's something we as a whole have to work on, but me personally I think that's something big-time I have to work on. I feel like I got better from last year, but the past couple of games I haven't been playing to the best of my ability. And that's what it comes down to. With time I plan on being back out there. Right now it's a change they feel they had to make to do what's best for the team."