Schwartz gives Panthers quality depth on the offensive line
Not that there's a replacement for starting right tackle Jeff Otah on the roster, but the Carolina Panthers are at least fortunate to have a backup with some experience now.
While Otah is recovering from Wednesday's arthroscopic surgery on his left knee, Geoff Schwartz will again fill in with the starters. He finished the last three games of last season there, and said Thursday the experience made a world of difference for him.
"I think for anybody to get into a game and get game experience, then you kind of understand what it's all about," Schwartz said. "You can practice as much as you want, but there's nothing like playing that game and being on that field. I think that just gives me an idea of what I can look forward to this season and what to expect."
Every expectation is that Otah should be ready for the start of the regular season, but Schwartz looked solid in his debut last season.
After playing with his hand up in Oregon's spread offense, he had to spend a year on the practice squad just learning to get into a three-point stance before he was ready for NFL action. That small aspect taken care of, Schwartz can use his prodigious strength, which makes him someone the Panthers think could contribute at either strong-side blocking position. He was going to compete for the right guard job, but Otah's absence has kept him on the outside all summer.
"I thought I was ready coming in," Schwartz said. "I had a year on the practice squad just to get used to playing in the NFL. Really it was kind of a redshirt year. I felt through the year I was getting better as practices went along and when my number was called I was ready to go. I was confident going into the game and I felt I played all right."
Schwartz said he still expected Otah to be back in time, but did think he'd be splitting his work between the two positions when camp opened since Otah was coming off a previous surgery on his torn left meniscus.
The Panthers got one starter back on the field, but were without another potential first-stringer and two more were unable to finish Thursday, leaving them with 16 players on the sidelines or indoors at the end of the day.
Cornerback Chris Gamble (knee) returned after missing the previous two days, while defensive tackle Ed Johnson (illness) stayed inside. Offensive linemen Travelle Wharton (back tightness) and Garry Williams (shoulder) began the day's lone practice, but were unable to finish. Panthers coach John Fox indicated that none of the problems with the linemen were severe.
Here's a look at the other 13 players who were held out completely. Take a deep breath: Defensive linemen Nick Hayden (oblique), Hilee Taylor (knee) and Eric Moore (hamstring), linebacker Jordan Senn (shoulder), safety Aaron Francisco (hamstring), running backs Tyrell Sutton (calf) and Mike Goodson (ankle), receivers Charly Martin (finger) and Trent Guy (hamstring) and the physically unable to perform quartet of wide receiver Steve Smith, running back Jonathan Stewart, linebacker Thomas Davis and right tackle Jeff Otah.
GETTING TO KNOW ...
Panthers defensive tackle Derek Landri
Background: A former fifth-round pick out of Notre Dame, spent three years with Jacksonville. He was also a high school teammate of Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew at California's De La Salle High. He's never started an NFL game, but does have highlights. Filling in for the injured John Henderson, he had a sack, interception and recovered a fumble against Pittsburgh in the 2007 playoffs. The Panthers claimed him off waivers in December 2009.
What you need to know: He might not be a threat to start here either, but he has shown well in camp. He fights through traffic inside, with a squatty frame that makes him hard to move against the run. He's probably an upgrade over the Nick Haydens of the world, giving them a smart and experienced backup if they keep him on the 53.
"We don't look at that. We don't look at what guys make; we evaluate how they play. I've had guys not make a lot and play good, and I've had guys make a lot and not play good. As coaches, you don't look at that. It's not part of the valuation. We put them in a competitive situation, and whoever plays best plays."
Fox, on the perception that Jimmy Clausen has an edge over Hunter Cantwell for the backup quarterback job based on his draft status.
Clausen's going to have to earn the job, and he might well, but it's not going to simply be given to him.
Rookie cornerback Robert McClain continues to stand out. He picked off a pass across the middle and took it the distance Thursday, looking unsure at first whether he should keep running before teammates encouraged him to go all the way.
The look on Fox's face said it all when asked about McClain, as a bit of surprise was evident. If you're a seventh-round pick and the coach even knows your name, you're doing well. If he knows your name and smiles when he says it, you've impressed.
Fox was equally complimentary about the hands of receiver Wallace Wright. Brought here to play special teams, Wright has looked better than anticipated in practice. If he can be a legitimate offensive player, it will give the Panthers some flexibility when it comes time to pick the 45-man active roster on game day.
It's becoming increasingly clear they want to give Duke Robinson every chance to win the starting right guard job.
As soon as Wharton left the field midway through practice, they shifted the more athletic Mackenzy Bernadeau to the left guard slot to make room for Robinson. While they'd be fine with Bernadeau (who's reminiscent of Geoff Hangartner for his intelligence and versatility), Robinson's a true mauler who would benefit the run game greatly.
Now all he has to do is stay in shape and stay on the field.