The Carolina Panthers are going to get a significant boost to their offense today, from an unlikely source.
With right guard Jeremy Bridges back in the lineup after a two-week suspension, the Panthers realized an immediate upgrade over rookie Ryan Kalil, who has admitted he prefers playing center.
Kalil struggled in particular last week against Houston defensive tackle Amobi Okoye, and Atlanta under tackle Jonathan Babineaux presents a similar challenge. The 6-foot-2, 288-pound Babineaux had two sacks last week against Jacksonville, and getting Bridges in front of him gives the Panthers a better chance to keep quarterback Jake Delhomme upright.
Of course, Bridges' contributions rise beyond the tangible, as many players have cited his enthusiasm and effort in his absence.
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"Very excited about it," running back DeAngelo Williams said. "I've been texting him for the last two or three weeks, just checking on him and making sure he's doing all right. JB, he's a high caliber guy with his attitude. He keeps us going on the offensive line.
"We missed his energy, let's just say that. We missed his energy in the huddle and the locker room and we're grateful to have him back."
Delhomme echoed those sentiments.
"Having him back is big. I mean just his presence," the quarterback said. "He is a great locker room guy. He's full of energy and that get-up-and-go. When you have enthusiasm, it makes your day go by faster and the people around you a little brighter. That's the kind of guy he is. He has a lot of energy and he's like that on the field. He gets excited when he plays."
• FAMILIAR FOES: For the second week in a row, the Panthers will see one of the young offensive linemen they cut. The Falcons were quick to claim guard D'Anthony Batiste after the Panthers released him, just as Houston nabbed tackle Rashad Butler. A third, center-guard Will Montgomery, was signed by the New York Jets last week.
Getting rid of those three stripped the Panthers of their developmental core of blockers, and created a situation which increases the pressure on them to do some deals before the end of the season.
Both their starting tackles, Jordan Gross and Travelle Wharton, will be unrestricted free agents at the end of the year. Backups Geoff Hangartner and Evan Mathis will be restricted free agents.
Backup tackle Frank Omiyale is under contract through 2008, while Bridges and Mike Wahle are locked up through 2009 and Kalil and Justin Hartwig are inked through 2010.
• OLD MAN KICKER: Had to be awkward for the Falcons to bring back timeless kicker Morten Anderson last week, simply because he's been around longer than Coca-Cola and most every other Atlanta establishment.
At 47, he's also about seven months older than Atlanta coach Bobby Petrino.
It goes without saying he's more senior than all the players on the field today, but he was also born before most of the Panthers coaching staff (Jeff Davidson, Danny Crossman, Geep Chryst, Tony Levine, Tim Lewis, Mike McCoy and Sam Mills III). He's also the elder of Panthers pro scouting director Mark Koncz, both the Panthers' pro scouts and seven of their eight college scouts.
• NOT LOOKING: While most of the league conducts workouts for unemployed players each Tuesday, the Panthers haven't done so yet.
General manager Marty Hurney said the team's not opposed to the idea, just hasn't felt the need.
When they've brought in players, it's been guys they already knew about (like tight end Christian Fauria) or players who were in camp (taxi-riding cornerback Curtis Deloatch).
Meanwhile, some of the guys they cut made the rounds last week, with running back Eric Shelton working out for Tampa Bay.