Bernadeau holding the line

CHARLOTTE – Offensive lineman Mackenzy Bernadeau's second chance didn't come along under the circumstances he envisioned, but Bernadeau is glad to see his game coming along this time around.

Bernadeau lost his starting spot at right guard after five games, but he's looked anything but lost in two games at left guard in place of injured starter Travelle Wharton.

"It's always good to be back in the lineup, to be able to play and help contribute," Bernadeau said. "It's unfortunate that it happened because somebody got hurt, but at the same time, if someone goes down you have to step in and play.

"I'm just glad to be on the field. It feels good to be able to play."

Wharton, who has been hobbled by a toe injury that kept him out of practice again Wednesday, said he's getting better. At the same time, he's happy to see his teammate getting better.

"He's come in and is playing hard. He's playing real well," Wharton said. "I definitely want to get back out there with my guys. Spending the whole offseason and half the season with them, you really want to get back out there and battle with those guys."

Before Wharton got hurt, he helped provide what little stability the offensive line had enjoyed along with left tackle Jordan Gross and center Ryan Kalil. From the beginning, the right side has been in flux.

Entering training camp, it looked like the only question was who would replace departed right guard Keydrick Vincent, with Bernadeau, Geoff Schwartz and Duke Robinson in the mix.

That battle never got off the ground, however, because right tackle Jeff Otah never made it back from a knee injury. Schwartz took over for Otah, and Bernadeau secured the right guard spot when Robinson went on injured reserve prior to the start of the regular season with a knee injury.

But Bernadeau struggled and was replaced after five games. Schwartz moved over to Bernadeau's spot at right guard, and Garry Williams took over for Schwartz at right tackle.

"The first time around, I thought I was trying to compete and working my behind off, but still it didn't work," Bernadeau said. "We made some changes, and some things just didn't click."

The new line thrived its first time out, helping the Panthers knock off San Francisco. That line remained intact and made steady progress the next three more games, but then Wharton went down at Tampa Bay, and Bernadeau got the call – this time on the side where he's most at home.

"I've played on the left side my whole life, from high school on. That's where I'm most comfortable," Bernadeau said. "I'm not going to say we actually found something and fixed it, but just somehow everything is coming together now.

"We're more confident. Guys are playing more physical. It's a group effort. Everyone is pitching in."

Even more help might be needed this week, with Schwartz missing practice Wednesday because of a back injury. The next man up could be C.J. Davis, whom the Panthers recently promoted from the practice squad. Also on Wednesday, the team re-signed tackle Rob Petitti.

Before Bernadeau rejoined the lineup, the line already was making measurable progress in the running game. Now, coming off a season-high 151 rushing yards at Cleveland, the Panthers will look to post their fifth consecutive game with 100-plus rushing yards Sunday at Seattle.

"Everything is starting to click, plus the running backs are running their behinds off," Bernadeau said. "We're finally just getting a chance to do our job.

"We're getting better. Hopefully, we can keep getting better and get a couple of wins."

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