CHARLOTTE -- Bank of America Stadium paused as a cart toted injured left tackle
The call went to Mackenzy Bernadeau, who with limited experience in goal-line formations -- including a brief cameo at fullback in Week 9 at New Orleans -- was the most seasoned of the understudies. He jogged onto the field, stepped into the huddle and after a barked cadence from
"When he first got in there, he didn't know what was going on," Wharton said.
But that was more a function of the suddenness of the promotion rather than lack of preparation. Because Wharton, Gross,
"Everybody came up to me and said, 'It's time to step it up; we need you here; it's a big game,' and I knew that coming in," Bernadeau said. "It's all about communication. We all communicated. They told me how my fits worked out, and what to work on, and if I need more help, just let me know."
"On double-teams, the fits were good," Wharton said. "There's still a lot of things that we've got to work on, because we've never played beside each other. He was confident in himself, and that's the main thing: being confident that you can play at this level. So he did a real good job."
So good that when the Panthers needed a game-clinching run in the game's final moments, they ran at the reconfigured left side. With blocks from Bernadeau and rookie fullback
"I love pulling around the edge," Bernadeau said. "I ran out, saw my guy there and then the next thing I know, I saw Stewart running down the field for a touchdown. It's a great feeling because obviously you want to help make a big play like that, but to come at the end of the day and help seal the deal is a big thing."
Added Wharton: "That just shows the guys are paying attention, staying in their playbooks and being prepared when they're called."
Wharton knows all about such circumstances. In 2004 -- a season defined by injuries -- the Panthers watched starting left guard Tutan Reyes succumb to a left ankle injury in an October loss at Philadelphia. Seven days later, Wharton -- then a rookie who had been inactive for his first five games -- moved into the starting lineup and remained there for the balance of the season, because when Reyes returned, he moved to right guard because of still another injury: Doug Brezezinski's fractured hip.
"You never know (when the chance to start comes), so be ready," Wharton said.
Wharton acknowledged that finding a true comfort level working alongside Bernadeau will take time -- a luxury the Panthers don't possess with their first Thursday night game -- and shortest preparation time in franchise history -- looming barely 100 hours after they left the field with a 28-19 win Sunday.
"We're just going to have to work with what we're dealt," Wharton said. "It's coming. It'll be here before we know it."
To that end, Bernadeau planned to spend Monday at Bank of America Stadium studying tape -- even though it was the designated off-day for the players.
"We've got a day off, but I'm going to be in here just getting ready," he said.