Panthers coach Ron Rivera: Next left tackle could be on current roster

jjones@charlotteobserver.com jperson@charlotteobserver.comFebruary 26, 2014 

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Carolina Panthers tackle Byron Bell (77) was mentioned Wednesday by head coach Ron Rivera as one of the candidates to replace retiring Jordan Gross at left tackle and protect quarterback Cam Newton’s blind side.

JEFF SINER — jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera doesn’t know who will replace the best and most consistent left tackle in franchise history, but he thinks the answer could be on the roster.

Jordan Gross, who officially announced his retirement Wednesday, also thinks the Panthers have possibilities within the team, including right guard Nate Chandler and right tackle Byron Bell.

“There’s a lot of guys that could do it,” Gross said. “There’s a lot of open holes now, and if guys want to make their careers take off, there’s no better job than to be a starting left tackle.

“I think Byron Bell takes way too much heat. In my opinion, I think he’s developing into a very good player. ... Nate was a D-lineman a year ago. He started (nine) games for us, did a good job.”

Rivera said the Panthers plan to look into the draft and free agency for the next left tackle.

“I’ve got a lot of faith what (director of pro scouting) Mark Koncz and his staff have done in terms of getting a list ready for us,” Rivera said. “And again, not just at the tackle position but the other positions that we feel we need to have answers for. I also feel very good about what potential may be out there in the draft. We just got back from the combine and we feel it’s a pretty strong and a pretty deep (draft class for) offensive line.

“And maybe the answer is on our own roster. We have to take a look at that. We have a lot of quality young men who played well for us and we’ve got to find out if one of them could be the answer as well.”

Wharton unsure about future: For most of their time with the Panthers, offensive linemen and neighbors Travelle Wharton and Gross commuted to and from the stadium together during the season.

Now that he’s losing his carpool companion, might Wharton retire, too?

“I don’t know what I’m going to do at this point. Still trying to figure it out,” Wharton said. “Really taking inventory on my body, my mind, and just making sure it’s the right deal for me.”

Wharton, 32, said last season was rewarding for him after he missed the 2012 season with a knee injury in Cincinnati. Wharton played in all 16 games, with 12 starts at left guard, after re-signing with the Panthers in August.

Wharton, the Panthers’ third-round pick in 2004 from South Carolina, has taken all of his regular-season snaps with Carolina (he was injured in the Bengals’ first preseason game in 2012). Rivera mentioned Wharton as a possible successor to Gross at left tackle, although that scenario seems unlikely.

“I love it here in Charlotte. This is where we want to live,” Wharton said. “If there’s going to be a next year, we have to sit down and talk about it.”

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