After trying their luck with one defensive lineman on the offensive line, the Carolina Panthers have converted another defensive tackle to the other side of the ball.
Defensive tackle Sione Fua showed up to practice Wednesday with a new jersey number (No. 72) and new position on the offensive line after a rash of injuries.
“Probably just knowing the plays,” Fua said about the toughest part of the switch. “I’ve been in the playbook the past couple days but there are so many calls, so many intricacies to the offense, just trying to wrap my head around everything. (Center Ryan) Kalil and (left tackle Jordan) Gross and all the other guys are helping me out there, so just learning the playbook has been the hardest part so far.”
Fua, a third-year player from Stanford, hasn’t played on the offensive line since high school, where he was a highly recruited player but decided his heart was in defense, he said.
He was told about the switch Tuesday and had spent all day cramming the offensive playbook into his head.
The Panthers found success in Nate Chandler at right guard when the second-year player filled in for the injured Chris Scott (knee) and backup Jeff Byers (foot) in the second half of Sunday’s win against Atlanta. Last year Chandler was a defensive tackle, but he switched sides in the offseason after the Panthers drafted two defensive tackles – Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short – with their first two picks.
“We want to try to make the best of their opportunities to play and both guys were basically in the same kind of situation,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said of Chandler and Fua. “We drafted two guys in the first and second round that came in and helped us immediately.”
Fua was released by the Panthers in the last round of cuts before the season. He was brought back as insurance when veteran defensive tackle Dwan Edwards was out with a hamstring injury.
But with Edwards healthy and a defensive line rotation solidified, Carolina made the move for Fua.
“Now with Dwan back we feel pretty good about it,” Rivera said. “Who knows? Something crazy could happen in the next couple days. But we feel good about what we’re trying right now.”
Hangartner returns: Geoff Hangartner had finished watching the Panthers beat the Falcons 34-10 on Sunday when a few hours later, he received a call from the team gauging his interest in returning.
With the injuries to Byers and Scott, the team needed an offensive lineman who knew the offense and could be inserted immediately. Hangartner was ready.
“I would have been happy being retired,” Hangartner said Wednesday following his first practice with the team. “There were probably six or eight teams I would have played for and this was No. 1 on my list, so as soon as they called, I was coming back.”
Hangartner said he wasn’t officially retired, but the eight-year veteran had the option of being selective if a team called.
“It was really strange,” he said. “I never expected that the call would come, to be honest with you, but I was happy it did.”
Rivera said Chandler will be the starter at right guard, offering some apprehension about Scott’s availability for Sunday. But the coach hopes to work in Hangartner much like he did Travelle Wharton when he returned to the team earlier this season.
“If we had some guy come in today that we were going to count on and none of us knew and didn’t know the offense, there would be a stress level,” Gross said. “But when it’s (Hangartner), he’s the smartest football player that I’ve ever played with on the O-line. He could teach us the offense probably right now.”
Injury update: Linebacker Chase Blackburn (foot) did not participate in practice, but Rivera said it was more of a precautionary move. Blackburn missed practices last week but played in 18 of the 50 defensive snaps on Sunday.
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