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2013 CAROLINA PANTHERS TRAINING CAMP | Spartanburg, S.C.

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Carolina Panthers’ release of Geoff Hangartner creates opportunity for Garry Williams

By Joseph Person
jperson@charlotteobserver.com

SPARTANBURG Garry Williams was set to be Carolina’s starting right guard two years ago when he broke his ankle in the final exhibition game and was lost for the season.

With Thursday’s release of Geoff Hangartner, Williams is back atop the depth chart at right guard. And barring any more unforeseen breaks, Williams doesn’t plan on relinquishing the spot.

“I’m not losing it,” Williams said Friday. “They can have guys try to fight for it. But it’s mine in my mind.”

Since signing with the Panthers as an undrafted rookie free agent in 2009, Williams has been the football equivalent of a utility infielder, a so-called “swing player” who can play guard and tackle. He started nine games last season – two at right tackle and seven at right guard.

After losing 10 pounds during the offseason, the 6-foot-3, 305-pound Williams said he feels good physically and is excited about the prospects of being a full-time starter.

“They played me at guard last year some, so I know how to move inside,” he said. “So my mindset’s great. Being back as a starter gives me more confidence to go out there and get this job done.”

Williams doesn’t have a lot of competition for the spot at the moment. Rookie Edmund Kugbila has been sidelined since tweaking his hamstring during the first training camp practice.

Carolina recently worked out free-agent guard Travelle Wharton, a former Panthers starter who was among the players who mentored Williams when he first joined the Panthers. Williams said he’s not looking over his shoulder at anyone – on the roster or otherwise.

“I don’t look at it that way,” he said. “I just deal with Garry Williams and that’s all I can do.”

Left tackle Jordan Gross expressed confidence in Williams, a former Kentucky standout who has started 20 career games.

“Garry Williams is a guy that we believe in and are comfortable with, and he already was starting to split reps with (Hangartner),” Gross said.

Williams, 26, was a three-year starter at Kentucky, where he was a second-team, all-SEC selection as a senior. After filling in and getting spot starts his first four NFL seasons, Williams is where he’d always hoped to be.

“That was my goal,” he said. “You never want to be a backup. You always want to help the team out when you can. But you always want to start. My mindset has always been to be a starter. Now it’s my chance, and I’m just going to take it and run with it.”

Joseph Person: 704-358-5123; Twitter: @josephperson

Complete Carolina Panthers coverage from The Charlotte Observer at CharlotteObserver.com/panthers
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