CHARLOTTE - Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart has fond memories of Geoff Hangartner blocking for him, so Hangartner's appearance in the locker room Monday was a welcomed site.
"We got Piggy back," Stewart said, referring to Hangartner by the nickname bestowed upon him during his first tenure in Carolina.
The Panthers shored up their decimated right guard spot Monday by signing Hangartner and fellow free agent Max Jean-Gilles.
Hangartner, a fifth-round pick by the Panthers in 2005, was released by the Buffalo Bills on Saturday following two seasons there. Jean-Gilles, a fourth-round pick by the Philadelphia Eagles in 2006, played five seasons there before signing with the Cincinnati Bengals last month, only to be released Saturday.
The Panthers expected Geoff Schwartz and Mackenzy Bernadeau to compete for the right guard spot, but Schwartz suffered a hip injury that eventually landed him on injured reserve, and Bernadeau has a turf toe injury that kept him out of Thursday's preseason finale. Carolina tried Garry Williams in the spot Thursday, but he suffered a broken ankle that sent him on IR.
Head coach Ron Rivera said that Bernadeau tested out the toe Monday and is working his way back, but Hangartner and Jean-Gilles are intriguing options.
"They're two veteran guys, and Geoff has the experience of having been around here," Rivera said. "We knew him, and Max comes from a pretty good background. We feel pretty good about these two guys."
The Panthers certainly associate Hangartner with good times. In 2008, when Carolina went 12-4 and rushed for a then-franchise record of 2,437 yards, Hangartner started eight games at three different positions along the offensive line.
"Everybody remembers that year. We had a great year," Stewart said. "Him being back with Jordan (Gross) and (Ryan) Kalil and those guys, I'm sure they're going to click just like they did that year."
Hangartner signed with the Bills as an unrestricted free agent in 2009 and started 28 consecutive games at center before a minor knee injury sidelined for the final four games last season.
The Bills' decision to cut ties surprised Hangartner but didn't faze him.
"Quite honestly, I never really wanted to leave here in the first place, so I'm happy to be back," said Hangartner, who got the nickname "Piggy" from former Panthers center Jeff Mitchell as a rookie. "I had talked to Jordan the day before and knew they had an issue at right guard. As soon as I knew I was getting released, I told my agent to call (general manager) Marty (Hurney) and see if they needed somebody. It worked out well.
"I still own a condo here, and my dad lives here, plus I've still got a lot of great friends on the team. It's real comfortable to come back here. I had a couple of different options, but this was my No. 1 choice, the place I wanted to be."
Jean-Gilles, too, feels comfortable in his new surroundings. The University of Georgia product started 26 games – all at right guard – and played in 42 games over his five seasons in Philadelphia.
"You've got half of Philly in here and half of Georgia in here, so it's like a big old reunion," Jean-Gilles said. "It's a great opportunity. It could be a blessing in disguise. They've got a couple of guys banged up, and they believed in me as being a veteran who can come in and learn the plays quickly and step in."
To make room on the roster for Jean-Gilles and Hangartner, the Panthers placed offensive lineman C.J. Davis (knee) on injured reserve and released safety Sean Considine.
ROSTER REWIND: Rivera spoke Monday for the first time about the myriad of moves made by the Panthers over the last 48 hours.
"We went through a pretty long weekend," Rivera said. "We had some tough decisions to make, trying to decide who fit us best."
The Panthers pared the roster from 79 players to 53 on Saturday and have since made seven roster changes – five on Sunday, two more on Monday.
Also on Monday, the Panthers formed a practice squad by signing six players. They are allowed to sign up to two more.
|WR||Darvin Adams||6-2||194||21||Auburn||Gulfport, Miss.|
|CB||Kendric Burney||5-9||190||23||North Carolina||Jacksonville, N.C.|
|C||Jeff Byers||6-4||301||25||Southern California||Loveland, Col.|
|TE||Greg Smith||6-4||245||23||Texas||Montgomery, Texas|
|RB||Josh Vaughan||6-0||232||24||Richmond||Richmond, Va.|
|LB||Lawrence Wilson||6-1||225||23||Connecticut||Tuscaloosa, Ala.|
Rivera referred to Sunday's decision to waive defensive end Everette Brown as an example of the calculated calls the organization had to make.
"A number of people have talked to us about Everette, and the interesting thing is most of them are 3-4 defenses," Rivera said. "He's a young man that we made a decision on based on what fits our needs right now. His talents may be suited for someone else.
"Some of these guys could help you in some aspect, but there were a couple of other guys that could help a little bit more. It makes for tough decisions."
HARRISON FAILS PHYSICAL:Defensive tackle Marcus Harrison, claimed off waivers from the Chicago Bears on Sunday, failed his physical and won't be joining the team.
The Panthers now have an open spot on their 53-man roster that they'll be looking to fill, presumably with another defensive tackle given that only three - Andre Neblett and rookies Sione Fua and Terrell McClain - remain on the roster.
Once the 53rd spot is filled, the roster may well be set for the season opener Sunday at the Arizona Cardinals, but as young as the Panthers are, nothing is set in stone.
"We have to be fluid," Rivera said. "I've expressed that to the team, that we have to continue to get better as coaches and as players."
NEW JERSEY: Another Panther changed uniforms Monday – kind of.
Running back Jonathan Stewart sported an LSU jersey in the locker room, the one worn by wide receiver Brandon LaFell in college. Stewart, a former Oregon star, was paying off a friendly wager after LSU beat Oregon 40-27 on Saturday, though Stewart did manage to get in a dig or two in the process.
"Oregon lost, so I've got to respect the bet," Stewart said, standing next to his locker crammed into LaFell's jersey. "LaFell is a little bit smaller than me. It's pretty tight. I can't really breathe. It's cutting off my circulation. My cardiovascular system is breaking down.
"He's real small, with a head kind of like a bobblehead."