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2013 CAROLINA PANTHERS

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Carolina Panthers boost offensive line, sign veteran Travelle Wharton

The Panthers turned to a familiar face Sunday in the hopes of solving the offensive line issues that have plagued them throughout the preseason.

Former Panther Travelle Wharton signed a one-year deal Sunday, about a month after he worked out for Carolina following his release by Cincinnati.

A former third-round pick from South Carolina, Wharton played his first eight seasons with the Panthers, starting 99 games from 2004-2011 at guard and tackle. He indicated the Panthers plan to use him at guard but said he’s just happy to be back home.

He never really left. Wharton kept his house in the Charlotte area after signing with the Bengals after he was a salary-cap casualty with the Panthers following the 2011 season.

“I’m excited to get back out there. It beats the uncertainty,” Wharton said. “We were fielding calls from teams. But this is the best fit. This is where it all started. I’m a Carolina guy.”

Wharton, 32, tore the ACL and MCL in his right knee in the preseason opener with Cincinnati in 2012 and missed the entire season. He said he passed two physicals last month – one for the Bengals and one before his Panthers’ workout.

Pat Connor, the Panthers’ team orthopedist who performed Wharton’s surgery, cleared him both times, Wharton said.

Panthers officials said Wharton had a good workout in July, but he left without a contract. League sources said the Panthers offered Wharton the veteran minimum.

But after watching their guards deal with injuries or inconsistency, the Panthers upped their original offer to Wharton, according to a league source. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

“It just didn’t work out at the time,” Wharton said. “Timing is the key for everything.”

The addition of Wharton brings Carolina’s roster to 79 players; they must cut four players by Tuesday in the first of two roster cut-downs.

The 6-foot-4, 315-pound Wharton likely will play left guard, where he played almost exclusively during his Carolina tenure, next to left tackle Jordan Gross, his friend and neighbor. That would move second-year guard Amini Silatolu to the right side and could bump Garry Williams to a reserve role.

Williams has been starting at right guard since the Panthers cut returning starter Geoff Hangartner during the first week of training camp.

Carolina has little depth along the line, a situation that has magnified with recent injuries. Rookie guard Edmund Kugbila has played in one full practice since Carolina selected him in the fourth round of this year’s draft.

Silatolu will miss Thursday’s game against Pittsburgh with a pulled hamstring, and versatile guard/center Jeff Byers also has been sidelined the past two days with an undisclosed injury.

“Sometimes it looks like the line’s in disarray,” Wharton said. “But as far as the tackle spot, they’ve been playing well.”

One of those tackles is Gross, who used to commute with Wharton to Bank of America Stadium during Wharton’s first eight seasons in Charlotte. That arrangement is back in effect.

“We’ll start our carpool in the morning,” Wharton said.

Person: 704-358-5123; Twitter: @josephperson Jones: 704-358-5323; Twitter: @jjones9
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