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Panthers welcome new offensive linemen


CHARLOTTE – The Panthers two newest offensive linemen are familiar faces, but Geoff Hangartner and Sione Fua's history as offensive linemen couldn't be any more different.

Hangartner – who was released by Carolina in training camp – was signed by the team on Tuesday, marking the third stint of his eight-year career with the team.

"I've been watching them closely, and I've been really happy for their success," Hangartner said. "It's great to be a part of it now.

"I knew that if (the Panthers) called I'd be back in a heartbeat. I was at the point where I was going to be very selective with who I would play for."

As for the team's decision to release Hangartner during training camp, head coach Ron Rivera said it ultimately came down to going younger.

"We've got five offensive linemen on injured reserve right now that were younger, bigger, more physical," Rivera said, referencing Amini Silatolu, Garry Williams, Edmund Kugbila, Jeff Byers and Bruce Campbell. "These were guys that we were expecting to develop. The future of this team is going forward with the younger players and sometimes you have to do that, because if you don't you'll never get those guys on the field."

Injuries created a need for Hangartner, who can line up at all three interior line positions and has played 110 games in his career, with 83 starts.  

"He's the smartest football player that I've ever played with on the O-line," left tackle and good friend Jordan Gross said of Hangartner. "He could probably teach us the offense right now."

He can start by teaching Fua, who practiced as an offensive lineman for the first time since high school on Wednesday.

With the Panthers thin on the offensive line due to injuries, Fua moved to offensive guard from defensive tackle.

"I'm rough around the edges but willing to learn," Fua said. "I'm just doing whatever I can for this team to help us win."

Said Rivera: "(Sione) is athletic, he's powerful, he's got great footwork. He's a very smart football player as well. He's somebody that (offensive line coach) John Matsko and (assistant offensive line coach) Ray Brown have watched the last couple years… We feel good about what we are trying right now."

Fua is the second former Panthers defensive lineman to switch to offensive line joining Nate Chandler, who is slated to make his first career start at right guard Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers in place of an injured Chris Scott.

Chandler was forced into action at right guard last week against the Atlanta Falcons when the Panthers lost Scott and Jeff Byers to injuries. Hangartner was impressed with how well Chandler handled being thrust into the game.

"I watched the tape with him yesterday. He played great," Hangartner said. "You could tell he was really excited at first when he got in there. But by the end of the game you couldn't tell that he hadn't started a ton of games at guard. He played really, really well."

Chandler is someone Fua can look to as he begins a transition of his own.

"Nate was on the practice squad last year, and now he's worked his way up to a starting guard this week. He's been working hard and doing well," Fua said. "Hopefully, I can work my way up also."

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