CHARLOTTE – In his first day in the Panthers locker room since the end of the 2008 season, offensive lineman Jeremy Bridges was all smiles.
The Panthers are hoping the 6-5, 318-pound veteran still has what it takes to knock the smile off the face of opponents.
"That's the only way to play offensive line – you've got to get down and dirty," Bridges said. "It's not nice in the trenches.
"My attitude on the field, people call me nasty. I don't think it's nasty. I just think it's football. I've only been taught to play football one way."
The Panthers know how effective Bridges can be, having started him on the right side of the offensive line 28 times between 2006 and 2008. He started 16 games over the three seasons that followed with the Arizona Cardinals, and now he's back in Carolina after the Cardinals reached an injury settlement with him on Nov. 5.
"Me and my wife were at the mall - at the Louis Vuitton store. I was in the men's shoe section, and I got a phone call from (Panthers director of pro scouting) Mark Koncz," Bridges said. "When I heard his voice, I just laughed because I knew who it was and had seen it was a 704 number. I kind of gasped and picked the phone up. It was good. I told the wife, and she was excited.
"I still have a house here. I have a tenant in it. He's month-to-month, so if you're hearing this buddy, see you soon."
The Panthers already have tenants on the right side of their line, and only time will tell if Bridges is able to unseat one of them. He said he got some snaps Wednesday at right guard, where Jeff Byers has gotten his first three career starts over the last three weeks. Byers is starting in place of Geoff Hangartner, who shifted to center when Pro Bowler Ryan Kalil was lost for the season with a foot injury.
"I don't know what his role will be, but just having another veteran guy in the room will help," Hangartner said. "He's played almost 10 years, so just having another veteran example in there helps a lot.
"He's a guy who's always excited. He loves playing the game of football, and it's contagious. We're happy to have him back."
Panthers head coach Ron Rivera was linebackers coach in Philadelphia when, in 2003, the Eagles selected Bridges in the sixth round of the draft out of Southern Mississippi.
"So I know a little bit about Jeremy," Rivera said. "I'm pretty confident that he's going to come in and do things we need him to do.
"We want him ready to be ready, just in case."
Bridges still faces some work to get ready. He's still recovering from torn ligaments in his left thumb that essentially ended his tenure in Arizona, but he gave his recovery a "thumbs up." He also must learn a new offensive scheme, but it helps having familiar faces like Hangartner and Jordan Gross in the offensive line room.
"There are a bunch of bright-eyed kids that love playing this game and a couple of wily veterans. It's a good room," Bridges said. "I've still got to learn the system, got to get it down to a T. For the most part, the reps I took were quality, but I've got to get my feet back under me and get my lungs back, get back in football shape.
"I'm 32 years old, but the old man can still run a little bit."