SPARTANBURG, S.C. – Head coach Ron Rivera said the decision to release veteran Geoff Hangartner – the Panthers' projected starter at right guard – was based on progress displayed by younger players on the roster.
"We talked about it as a staff, we talked about it with (general manager) Dave, (Gettleman) obviously, and our scouts, and we're thinking that these young guys are developing into the players that we believe they can be," Rivera said.
The younger options include Garry Williams (who made nine starts last season, including seven at right guard) and 2013 fourth-round draft pick Edmund Kugbila, who has been unable to practice thus far in training camp due to a hamstring injury. Rivera also mentioned that second-year guard Hayworth Hicks has shown promise.
Williams served as the first-team right guard in Thursday's practice.
"Kugbila is kind of waiting in the wings. Garry Williams has done a really nice job and has actually had a really good spring. We're excited about what Garry can bring to the table," Rivera said. "Two years ago, Garry was going to be our starting guard until he broke the ankle. He seems to be back and in shape, playing the way he did that put us to the point where we thought he could be a starting guard."
Rivera added that the team is not planning to bring in a free agent to take over at right guard.
"No, not right now," Rivera said. We may bring in some other guys in terms of numbers, but we're not actively looking for some guy to come in and say, 'Hey, you're the new starter.'"
News of Hangartner's release this morning stunned his now former Panthers teammates.
"It was a shock to all of us," left guard Amini Silatolu said.
Players understand that it's all part of professional football, but that doesn't eliminate the element of surprise in news of this nature.
"We all know what kind of business we're in, how serious it is," left tackle Jordan Gross said. "There's a lot of job changes, and when you lose a friend it's tough. But you just hope that management knows what they're doing and that it will make us a better team. That's really what you have to focus on."
Hangartner – a fifth-round draft pick by the Panthers in 2005 from Texas A&M – played six seasons with the team (2005-08 and 2011-12). He started 55 games in Carolina, spending time at both guard and center during his tenure.
Hangartner started at right guard last year, then switched to center following Ryan Kalil's season-ending foot injury.
Gross is eager to see how some of the younger players on the roster respond to Hangartner's departure.
"Garry Williams is a guy that we believe in. He was already starting to split reps with (Geoff)," Gross said. "But after that it puts a lot of pressure on a lot of young guys who are unproven, and I think that's by design. That's what the team wanted to do and see who would rise to the top and prove their worth.
"There's a ton of camp left, all the preseason games for people to win jobs, and competition should bring out the best in people. We'll see what they are really made of, and that's the environment that's been created here."