Carolina Panthers

Line issues resurface against Eagles

Carolina quarterback Jake Delhomme has the ball stripped away by Philadelphia defensive end Juqua Thomas.
Carolina quarterback Jake Delhomme has the ball stripped away by Philadelphia defensive end Juqua Thomas.

PHILADELPHIA -- Carolina right tackle Jordan Gross wasn't throwing parties last week, nor is he flinging life preservers now.

The Panthers' offensive line, which looked so polished and efficient the week before in a win at New York, looked disjointed and lost in Friday's 27-10 loss at Philadelphia.

So after half the exhibition season, do even they know what to expect?

"I still think we've got a good team," Gross said in the aftermath of the loss. "I said last week I was glad we did well but it didn't mean we were great, and I don't think this means we're terrible.

"We're probably somewhere between right now."

The Panthers' first line paved the way for a phenomenal outburst by running backs DeShaun Foster and Nick Goings against the Giants, but couldn't do much at all right against the Eagles. In the seven series they played the first half, the Panthers gained a total of five first downs, three of them coming on a field-goal drive to end the half. They punted four times and turned it over twice on the others.

They ran eight times for 36 yards, and quarterback Jake Delhomme was sacked three times (once losing a fumble). Partially because of the pressure, Delhomme also lobbed up one of his back-foot interceptions, which was returned for a touchdown.

Nothing showed it better than the first possession, when a screen pass went for a short gain, then the pocket collapsed and Delhomme had to work to avoid another sack, then Carolina failed to convert when Delhomme rolled out, saw no one and threw the ball away.

"That first one kind of sums up the whole first half," Gross said. "It was just a bad day, there's nothing really to say, like one protection was bad. I can only speak for the O-line, but we protected real poorly."

The one thing for sure is that the Panthers' line will have more time to work on it, and there are more new combinations coming.

They'll report back to training camp for practice this afternoon, and will at least work on it again Monday before heading home. How they'll line up when they do so remains to be seen.

Throughout last week, they practiced with rookie Ryan Kalil at center and veteran center Justin Hartwig shifted over to right guard -- the first experiment for the first two weeks of the season, when they'll be without suspended right guard Jeremy Bridges. It appeared that they were weaker at both spots, with Kalil looking overwhelmed and Hartwig out of place.

"My name got called this week, and it's a tough situation for Justin Hartwig moving to guard having never played it, and he did pretty well for the most part, never playing the position," Kalil said. "Being a veteran, with his offensive mind, helping me out with the play-calling and things like that, it's one of those things.

"We've got great talent, we just have to see what happened, and keep getting back to work. It is preseason, but I look forward to see what's happened."

Hartwig's played some guard before, was a tackle in college, but all 48 of his NFL starts have been at center. Kalil's probably limited to the pivot as well, because that's where he starred at Southern Cal and he might not be big enough to hold up elsewhere.

So if Hartwig can't play guard effectively for two weeks, Kalil might become the new incarnation of Bruce Nelson, the 2003 second-round pick who was destined to replace Jeff Mitchell but started just one career game before being forced to retire with hip problems. With Hartwig in the second year of a five-year, $17 million contract (with $11 million of it coming the first two years), they need to figure out a way to use both if they want to be cost-effective.

There are reasons to believe it could work, as there was some thought to moving Hartwig to guard last year if he could have come back from his opening week groin injury.

Kalil's also exceptionally polished for a first-year guy, both on and off the field. He talked about his first start, calling it a "real cool experience," and spoke of how it took the edge off when former college teammate Mike Patterson said hello during the pre-game.

Of course, the Eagles' defensive tackle would then handle him for one of the early sacks, a play Kalil chalked up to youth.

"There's a lot of good things I did tonight, my first start," he said. "But I gave up a sack, so that's not good. And giving it up to Patterson, one of my boys from (Southern Cal), kind of welcomed me to the NFL. It sucks and I'm sorry for doing that.

"It was more of a mental mistake than actually getting physically beat, so it's one of those things I'll learn from, and I've got to watch film on it, and know that it won't happen again."

The bigger question will be whether he gets the opportunity. They have another more polished backup guard in Geoff Hangartner at their disposal, while the other backup guards (D'Anthony Batiste and Will Montgomery) are still projects, as well.

Kalil shrugged when asked if he thought his performance would take him out of the mix for the opener. Maybe it wasn't a fair question, since the coaches themselves can't be sure just yet, but Kalil said the night was simply part of the learning process for him.

"It's my rookie season," he said. "There's a lot of things that I feel I've been doing wrong and a lot of things I need to get better at. Just constantly working and getting better is my goal for the season.

"If they call my number, I'll come in and play my heart out and do the best I can. Just constantly keeping my head in the playbook, asking questions of the coaches and players has been my goal this whole time, and that's what I'll keep doing."

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