Carolina Panthers

Versatility proves key for Panthers' Bridges, Hangartner

Jeremy Bridges celebrates with Panthers teammate DeAngelo Williams after Williams scored a touchdown last week against the Giants. Bridges and Geoff Hangartner have been a big part of Carolina's success this season, as both backups have stepped up and started a combined 11 games in 2008.
Jeremy Bridges celebrates with Panthers teammate DeAngelo Williams after Williams scored a touchdown last week against the Giants. Bridges and Geoff Hangartner have been a big part of Carolina's success this season, as both backups have stepped up and started a combined 11 games in 2008.

CHARLOTTE -- There are really not many situations you can throw Geoff Hangartner into that he's not prepared for.

Last week, however, was a new one on the resume of the Carolina Panthers' most versatile offensive lineman.

After Keydrick Vincent went down with a season-ending groin injury the week before, the Panthers couldn't decide who to start in his place. So they simply rotated Hangartner and Jeremy Bridges at right guard, the way they roll running backs in and out.

"It's a little different," Hangartner said of the arrangement. "But you've got to prepare like you're playing the whole game, because one of us could get hurt at any point.

"The only downside was, it was really cold, so it was tough keeping loose, but it wasn't really that big of a deal."

That's the kind of resilient attitude that has embodied the Panthers' offensive line this season. Through the first half of the season, they were seemingly never the same way two weeks in a row. Injuries kept the projected starting five from finishing a game until late November, and when they finally got some stability, Vincent went down. Prior to his injury, he was the only one to take every snap this season.

But the Panthers invested in guys like Hangartner and Bridges for a reason, and this was it.

"Honestly, it doesn't affect me," quarterback Jake Delhomme said of the constant changing. "I knew they were going to do that last week. Hangartner can come in and play any position. And Bridges for the most part can, too. So those guys are comfortable coming in and playing."

For the season, Hangartner has started seven games -- two at left guard for Travelle Wharton, four at center for Ryan Kalil and last week at right guard. Bridges started four games at right tackle when Jeff Otah was hurt.

They have 54 starts for the Panthers between them, as well, proving they could play for long stretches if need be. Hangartner got 15 of those in 2006 when center Justin Hartwig was hurt early, while Bridges started 14 games at right tackle in 2006 after being claimed off waivers from Arizona following Wharton's injury

They're also co-stars of a commercial campaign for a local security company, trading on their brawn portraying guys who always seem to show up in time to thwart would-be burglars. In addition to the television commercials, there's also a billboard on I-485 showing them, with a one-word slogan: "Smart."

You could debate whether Bridges deserves such, after his recent arrest on a non-violent assault charge which the team is still investigating. But Hangartner clearly owns that description. He scored a 47 on the Wonderlic coming out of Texas A&M, just three short of perfect, and the highest in his draft class.

That intelligence and quick decision-making ability has been critical for him, since he never knows from one snap to the next where he's going to end up.

"At least when I start, then I know what position i'm going to play, that's the biggest difference," he said. "When I know i'm not going to start I have to be ready to play all three inside positions. That's the main difference."

Bridges is likewise versatile, with the ability to play either guard or tackle (generally on the right side since he's a better run blocker than pass protector). And despite his brushes with the law including a conviction last year for assault by pointing a gun, he has been embraced in Charlotte. He was suspended the first two games of last season for that one, but was quickly brought back into the family, where he has played a valuable role.

He echoed Hangartner's sentiments about the difficulty of backing up, having to work multiple positions in practice to get ready for a game day that could bring anything.

"Being a backup, that means that's your life," Bridges said. "You've got to be the guy when you're called on. They're not going to accept anything else. It's a lot of preparation, got to be diverse, got to be able to train your mind.

"I may be practicing at tackle, or guard, but 'Whoa, Otah goes down,' I'm back at right tackle. It's the diversity you've got to keep in your mind, be up on everything you're supposed to and be ready when your number's called. That's just it."

Since both have started, there's also an emotional hurdle to clear. Being a super sub still means you're a sub -- that the coaches have decided there's someone else they like better to start the game. That one's handled the way the rest of their challenges are, with a shrug.

"Guys have been ready to play, that's it," Bridges said. "Basically, you accept your role on the team. If you're a selfish guy, that stuff eats at your brain and it corrodes you. Then when you go in you can't give your all.

"But when you accept your role, you do it when you're called upon, it makes it a lot easier."

  Comments