CHARLOTTE - Mike Pollak enjoyed his four seasons in the Indianapolis Colts' offensive line room, and he's off to a similar start with the Panthers.
Once the whistle blows for practice, however, his friends become foes.
"I didn't come here to sit the bench," Pollak said. "Hopefully I can lock down a guard spot, but you never know what can happen. I just want to be one of those five, six guys that dress out on Sundays."
Pollak said the Panthers line is chocked full of "great guys," and they'll certainly provide great competition for the 6-3, 301-pounder who has spent the majority of his NFL career at guard.
Four of the five offensive linemen who started for the Panthers last season when healthy are back in the mix, and that doesn't include Byron Bell, who started at right tackle the majority of the season in place of injured starter Jeff Otah.
Left guard Travelle Wharton is now with the Cincinnati Bengals, but right guard Geoff Hangartner is back, and he isn't alone. Bell was originally projected to play guard in the NFL and could figure in the position battle, plus the Panthers selected guard Amini Silatolu in the second round of the April draft.
"There is a lot of depth," Pollak said. "The second group is going against good guys, so you're getting good work wherever you are on the depth chart. That's only going to help going into camp and throughout camp."
Pollak didn't begin his rookie season out of Arizona State in 2008 as a starter for the Colts, but only because an injury that sidelined him for the first three games. He started the last 13 games that season, and under the leadership of quarterback Peyton Manning, he helped the Colts lead the NFL in sacks allowed per pass play for the first of three consecutive seasons.
Pollak was a starter to kick off each of the last three seasons, but the Colts fell to 14th in sacks allowed per pass play last season. Their win-loss record plummeted even more, to 2-14, with Manning sidelined all season by a neck injury.
"It really showed how quarterback-driven the league is when you look at how our offense functioned last year," Pollak said. "Going forward in my football career, I'll really understand how important the quarterback is."
The Panthers can relate. In 2010, when a trio of quarterbacks struggled in the starting role, the Panthers ranked last in the NFL in total offense and scoring. But last year, with rookie phenom Cam Newton under center, the Panthers ranked in the top seven in both categories.
"Every position here is loaded with explosive, exciting guys to block for," Pollak said. "It's exciting as an offensive lineman knowing that you can run or pass or do the stuff that Cam does. It's a very versatile offense."
It's a versatility to which Pollak readily admits he's having to adjust. Even so, he believes he possesses the versatility to land a spot on the field come Sundays this fall.
"Back in Indy, we knew where Peyton was going to be every single time he dropped back. Here, I'm trying to learn that the quarterback can be in different spots on the same play," Pollak said. "You've got to hold onto your blocks a second longer. You don't want to be the guy that lets pressure get to the quarterback.
"I played a lot at left guard last year, but prior to that, I was at right guard a lot. I'm comfortable at both spots, plus I played center throughout my college career and a little bit with the Colts. I'm just trying to get on the field wherever I can."