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Garry Williams embraces starting role

SPARTANBURG, S.C. – Garry Williams isn't the type of player who gets excited about fans snapping his photo or asking for his autograph.

Williams is more about being on the field at the snap of the ball and being able to make his mark in a productive offense.

"I'm never a guy that likes to be in the spotlight," Williams said. "But my mindset has always been to be a starter. Now is my chance, and I'm just going to take it and run with it."

Williams is the Panthers' starting right guard at the moment, a spot he claimed for his own after the team released veteran Geoff Hangartner on Thursday.

Two years ago, a pair of injuries and his own hard work moved Williams into the same role heading into the preseason finale, but the gig was short-lived. Trying to get in some valuable reps before the regular season, Williams suffered a broken left ankle early in the game.

Two days after Williams went on injured reserve, the Panthers signed Hangartner, or "Piggy" as his teammates from his two stints in Carolina affectionately called him.

"Piggy will be missed. He taught me a lot," Williams said. "To let a player like Piggy go, that shows true confidence in me. I'm going to give them everything I've got and show them that I can do this."

In reality, Williams showed the Panthers that he could do it last season. And throughout his career, he has shown that he can get it done at multiple positions.

Williams was the only undrafted rookie to make the Panthers' opening day roster in 2009, and after limited duty primarily on special teams that year, the University of Kentucky product started 11 games at right tackle in 2010.

Then, in 2011, the Panthers asked him to help out at guard – a position he didn't play in college – and he showed enough to earn the starting job. Last year, after starting two early games in place of an injured Byron Bell at right tackle, Williams started the final six games at right guard after Hangartner moved to center.

The Panthers won five of those six games.

"Garry Williams is a guy that we believe in," veteran left tackle Jordan Gross said. "He was already starting to split reps with Piggy."

After spending last summer getting healthy, Williams was able to spend this past summer getting better. He was a regular around Bank of America Stadium even before the offseason workout program began in mid-April and also worked out some in Florida.

"I wanted to lose some weight so I'd be able to move faster, and now I'm trying to get the weight back but in a healthier way," Williams said. "I dropped about 10 pounds. I want to play at 310. I'm at 305 right now."

Williams' weight will undoubtedly fluctuate in hot-and-humid Spartanburg, a place where the Panthers' depth chart fluctuates each August. Williams understands that nothing is guaranteed, but he'll do everything in his power to protect his role.

"They've always told me, 'You have the potential to be a starter. You just need to step up and keep fighting,'" Williams said. "That day has come, so now it's time for me to step up and keep fighting.

"I'm not losing. Other guys will try to fight for it, but it's mine in my mind."

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