Panthers' Vincent earns starting spot

Darin GanttAugust 19, 2008 

CHARLOTTE -- If there's a single player who best sums up the Carolina Panthers' offseason bulk-buying, it's Keydrick Vincent.

Vincent's different from most of the rest of them, since he's actually been impressive on the field.

One of the more obscure of their bargain-bin pickups, Vincent's salted away the right guard job after a brief competition, and looks like the steal of their free-agent class, along with prodigal wideout Muhsin Muhammad. While some of the others are ably filling the backup roles they were signed to fill, Vincent has excelled, holding off reclamation project Toniu Fonoti and adding some gravity to a line in flux.

Though Vincent's far from a household name, it shouldn't come as much of a surprise since he's exactly what they were looking for on their offensive line.

"He's a guy that's been with a few teams, has got great experience, has got a great mindset and work ethic that I think brings a lot to that room and that position," coach John Fox said. "He's a guy that we're very pleased with at this point."

That's because he fits every requirement they had. The 6-5, 325-pound Vincent laughed and called signing here a "no-brainer" on several levels, including the obvious.

"They wanted to get bigger and more physical," he said. "And I'm a big and physical guy, so I just fit right into what we're trying to do this year."

Beyond that, he was cheap, coming on a two-year, $2 million deal. Perhaps since he played just seven games in Arizona last year, he was off the radar and overlooked. A closer look at his track record shows why he was attractive to the Panthers.

He started 48 games for Baltimore and Pittsburgh since coming to the league as an undrafted free agent in 2001. Those are the kind of power-running offenses the Panthers wanted to emulate after their makeover. He's been bothered by some injuries in the past, but his brief respite in the desert has him feeling like a new man. He was a bit of a surprise cut by the Ravens last year (after he was replaced by first-rounder Ben Grubbs), and his reunion with former coaches Ken Whisenhunt and Russ Grimm at the Cardinals was a soft landing, with just one start.

"I feel like it was a redshirt year last year," Vincent said. "It's real funny because I was coming off a sports hernia injury and I was able to heal up, so Carolina got a brand new player."

They also found him to be a good fit with the other new parts.

They're breaking in second-year center Ryan Kalil, with rookie right tackle Jeff Otah on the other side. Having a guy like Vincent, who's been through what they're learning on the fly, can only help the process. Left tackle Jordan Gross likened it to his rookie year, when they parked him next to solid veteran Kevin Donnalley.

"I think he's just definitely been the most consistent guy," Gross said. "He's a veteran guy, he's got the experience, he's taken the mentor role with Otah to help him through everything. Just a good fit as far as the type of players we want on the O-line."

Vincent said his mentoring of the first-rounder has been easy, since Otah's such a willing pupil.

"He's a really smart player," Vincent said. "I've played around a lot of young guys and to this point I think Jeff is really physical, especially coming out of college into the pro game. And he's pretty smart, so it's all just about being consistent, and I think he'll get to that point.

"With Jeff, it's really not me, it's just he listens. You have a lot of guys like first-rounders and stuff and they don't listen. But when I say things, he listens to me and he respects me. So you can't say anything else about that."

• EXTRA POINTS: After working out in full pads the last three days, Fox gave his team a break today, canceling the regularly scheduled practice. They'll get two more heavy practices in Wednesday and Thursday before the Friday walk-through. This gives them a break from a post-camp grind. Fox said there was an element of throwing them a bone since the work here has been good.

"It's something I was thinking about doing anyways," Fox said Monday. "We came back from camp and then (had) the game. We practiced in pads, hard, Saturday, Sunday and today. Then it will give our coaches a chance to look at Washington a little bit more exclusively than we have in the past. Then we'll have two regular-season-type workouts on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday and get ready for the game." ...

There were no changes to the injury report, though tight end Gary Barnidge (gluteal strain) was running on the side more, perhaps closer to a return.

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