Panthers do well without starting tackles

The HeraldOctober 6, 2008 

Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme calls a play at the line against Kansas City.

DAVID T. FOSTER III • THE CHARLOTTE OBSERVER

CHARLOTTE -- Normally, playing without one starting offensive tackle would be an issue. Missing both would be a death sentence.

Didn't seem to be a problem at all for the Panthers, who hardly looked like they missed Jordan Gross and Jeff Otah at all.

With the starters out, the Panthers merely managed their best rushing day of the year and kept quarterback Jake Delhomme on his feet all day in a 34-0 rout of Kansas City.

Frank Omiyale, who had never taken a snap of offense in four years in the league, replaced Gross at left tackle. Former starter Jeremy Bridges had Otah's place on the right. Together, they helped the Panthers to the best offensive day of the season (441 yards).

"Without looking at the tape, I thought they both did a fine job as we expected them to," coach John Fox said.

The Panthers made it clear they trusted their backups from the start. On the first play from scrimmage, they ran left, right behind Omiyale for a 5-yard gain.

"That felt good," Omiyale said. "Knowing they were coming my way, I had to dig down and show they didn't make a mistake."

They claimed him off waivers from Atlanta last year, looking for a more physical upgrade to past backups. And though he's been inactive for 49 of his 52 NFL games prior to Sunday, he didn't disappoint.

As to the future, Gross said he "felt like he turned a corner," during a workout Saturday, and hoped to be back for next week's trip to Tampa Bay.

"Seeing that today, that was good medicine," Gross said.

• WIDE, BUT SHORT: The Panthers nearly ran out of wide receivers Sunday.

D.J. Hackett was injured blocking for the opening kickoff and didn't return (knee), and starter Steve Smith's day was cut short by a hard hit in the fourth quarter that seemed to aggravate an existing shoulder problem.

That left punt returner Mark Jones running with Muhsin Muhammad down the stretch. Jones actually caught his first NFL pass (in his fifth season) during the first quarter on one of the rare snaps in which they went with three wideouts. "He's a headsy guy who's learned our offense in a short amount of time," Fox said.

Smith came back into the game for one snap, but was visibly shaken after being nailed by safety Bernard Pollard on a quick pass to the sideline. As trainers attended to Smith, Delhomme was pulled and the Panthers went into a protective mode.

"It's part of football," Fox said when asked about the nature of Smith's leaving.

The Panthers generally activate just four wideouts for each game, so when Hackett went out early, it caused a day of adjustments. Dwayne Jarrett and Ryne Robinson were on the sidelines in street clothes, though Jarrett probably moves up this week if Hackett's out for any length of time.

• EXTRA POINTS: Center Ryan Kalil (ankle) and defensive end Hilee Taylor (knee) were also injured during the game. Kalil tried to come back, but Geoff Hangartner finished for him. That makes three times in five games the Panthers have failed to finish a game with their five starting linemen, and the other two were when Hangartner replaced an injured Travelle Wharton at left guard. ...

Kicker Rhys Lloyd was flying, after kicking off into the fifth row of seats. Granted, he benefited from a 15-yard head start thanks to a penalty, but he was still fired up and jumping on teammates at leaving the yard. ...

In addition to Gross and Otah, the following six players were inactive: Quarterback Matt Moore, receivers Robinson and Jarrett, defensive tackle Gary Gibson, linebacker James Anderson and safety Quinton Teal. Unlike previous weeks, Moore was dressed as the emergency third quarterback, as he recovers from his opening-week broken leg.

daringantt@carolina.rr.com

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