CHARLOTTE – When the Panthers offensive linemen gathered for a position meeting on the eve of Sunday's game against the Atlanta Falcons, reserve tackle Nate Chandler felt like he had something to say.
"I told the guys that weren't starting to be ready for whenever their number might be called," Chandler said. "But I wasn't expecting to go in at guard."
Chandler, who played along the defensive line as a rookie last year, moved over to offensive tackle during the offseason and had played a handful of snaps as an extra offensive linemen in short-yardage situations. But when starting right guard Chris Scott and backup Jeff Byers went down to injuries over the course of a few snaps late in the first half Sunday, the Panthers turned to Chandler to play guard.
"Nate Chandler hadn't had any reps at guard since he moved from defensive tackle, but he knows the plays, he knows what to do," left tackle Jordan Gross said. "Nate's a great athlete. When I saw him come in I said, 'Well, we'll see how this goes.'
"It was pretty beautiful to see that happen for him."
After a self-described shaky start, Chandler played like a veteran. The Panthers rushed for just 26 yards in the first half, but back-to-back runs of 9 yards by DeAngelo Williams – to the right side – at the start of the third quarter set the tone for 105 second-half rushing yards as Carolina slowly pulled away for a 34-10 win.
"He played hard, and we didn't really miss a beat with him in there," center Ryan Kalil said. "That gives him a lot of confidence, and that gives us a lot of confidence in him moving forward.
"It's a testament to Nate. He does a great job throughout the week. He cares a lot about this group and his job. He does a good job of studying all positions. It's also a testament to (offensive line) Coach (John) Matsko. Talk about a guy who works his butt off and has us prepared week in and week out."
Quarterback Cam Newton wasn't quite sure what to make of the situation at first given some of the things he heard along the line of scrimmage as Chandler tried to get his bearings. But Newton, it turned out, was in good hands. He wasn't sacked a single time in the second half.
"As I'm in cadence, Nate is asking Kalil, 'Who do I have?' " Newton said. "As a quarterback, that's not exactly exciting like you want it to be, especially with it being a pass. Hearing those guys talking about, 'Who do I have? Him? OK.' And then it's, 'Hut!'
"But he did an unbelievable job. He did great, and he's going to keep learning. Nate is a competitor. I've got all the faith in him."
Chandler credited Kalil to his left and Byron Bell to his right for keeping him in line. He credited the coaching staff for helping him be as prepared as possible.
Then Chandler simply put that all together as best he could under the circumstances and did what comes natural.
"I just went in there knowing that I needed to use my hands and stay low. I just played football," Chandler said. "That's what it came down to – just playing ball and trying to dominate the person in front of me.
"I was a little shaky at first, but as the series kept going on, I felt comfortable. I felt like I had my feet underneath and had confidence in what I was doing. We just took it from there and took the game over."