|Panthers' Wharton makes smooth transition to guard|
|Written by Admin|
|Wednesday, 03 December 2008 10:43|
``I wanted to be the first one down there to watch him celebrate,'' the 6-foot-4, 312-pound Wharton said Wednesday. ``And if I did see guys get up on him, I wanted to be able to give a lick.''
But before Stewart could revel in his long TD run, his thigh cramped up shy of the end zone. That allowed the Packers' Charles Woodson to catch up and strip the ball.
Enter the Panthers' left guard, who had rumbled 43 yards from his block that allowed Stewart to break free.
``Seeing the ball come out, I saw somebody dive for it and it was still right there,'' Wharton said. ``So I just jumped on it and was trying to hold on tight. I got bombarded by a bunch of tacklers and I was just holding on.''
ton later made another crushing block on one of DeAngelo Williams' four 1-yard TD runs in Carolina's 35-31 win.
``I thought the hustle play he made on the fumble recovery was huge, but that wasn't the only thing he did,'' coach John Fox said. ``He hustled and blocked very well all day - both in pass (protection) and in the run game. I think it was one of his better games in his tenure.''
Wharton's signature game of his five-year career came just over nine months after the Panthers surprised many by giving him a six-year, $36 million deal that included $12 million in guaranteed money - then moved him from the more glamorous tackle spot to guard.
Wharton seemed almost embarrassed to talk about the Green Bay game Wednesday as the Panthers (9-3) returned to the field for a light workout ahead of Monday night's NFC South showdown with Tampa Bay (9-3). And Wharton's team-first attitude has helped him quickly adapt to his changing roles.
Wharton played left tackle in college at South Carolina, but the Panthers made him a guard after selecting him in the third round of the 2004 draft.
Wharton moved back to left tackle in 2005. After missing all but one game in 2006 because of left knee surgery, Wharton returned to start all 16 games at left tackle last season.
uncertain, because he and right tackle Jordan Gross were free agents.
But before the Panthers even addressed Gross' situation, they signed Wharton to a giant deal. They then placed the franchise tag on Gross, guaranteeing his return. Two months later, the Panthers drafted Jeff Otah in the first round.
That began a series of moves that left new starters at all five positions on the line. Otah replaced Gross at right tackle, Gross replaced Wharton at left tackle, and Wharton became the left guard, next to new center Ryan Kalil and right guard Keydrick Vincent.
``I think he fit well at tackle. I think just for our football team, that was the position we needed him at,'' Fox said of Wharton. ``I think it was very unselfish on his part to be fine with that move, and I think he's getting better every week.''
The Panthers have overcome a series of injuries on the line - including Wharton's two-game absence due a sprained knee - to improve dramatically. Williams is 45 yards shy of becoming only the third back in the team's 14 seasons to rush for 1,000 yards. Delhomme has been sacked only 18 times.
``We worked so hard this offseason,'' said Wharton, who started one game at left tackle because Gross was out with a concussion. ``Everybody's been paying attention and staying focused in the meeting room, just understanding what each other's jobs are and what we're supposed to do.''
eau Field guaranteed only the fourth winning season in team history. And the Panthers can thank their big left guard, even if he did catch some grief in the film room for how long it took him to run those 43 yards before his key fumble recovery.
``They're going to have their jokes, but it's a good thing,'' Wharton said. ``We got the ball, it wasn't a turnover, and we were able to score.''