Trio en guard

SPARTANBURG, S.C. – From the perspective of the casual observer, it might look like Mackenzy Bernadeau has wrapped up the Panthers' starting job at right guard.

But Bernadeau, despite getting nearly every snap with the first team during the first week of training camp, knows better.

"We're all aware of what's going on," said Bernadeau, in the running for the job along with Duke Robinson and Geoff Schwartz. "It's been pretty hectic with guys not healthy and things like that, but no matter what, we're still going to be competing.

"Duke is back, and when Jeff (Otah) comes back, I'm sure Schwartz will be a factor."

The first four days of practice, Robinson was on the Physically Unable to Perform list with conditioning concerns. Throughout practice, Schwartz has been playing beside Bernadeau, working with the first team at right tackle while Otah recovers from a knee injury.

"I'm comfortable at tackle, so that's all right with me, but that right guard spot is still open, and when Otah gets back, then we'll get a chance to compete for it," Schwartz said. "I'm not really worried about it. I'll get my chance when I get my chance. Right now my job is to play tackle."

The trio of young players is competing to become the final piece to the puzzle along a line that returns four proven starters: Otah at right tackle, Ryan Kalil at center, Travelle Wharton at left guard and Jordan Gross at left tackle.

In 2009, the right guard position belonged to Keydrick Vincent, who became an unresticted free agent following the season and recently signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

"I'm going to fight for it," Robinson said. "It's going to be hard because Mack is doing his thing, so I've got to come with it.

"Right now I'm just trying to get on the right track, earn my spot on the team and help the team get to the main thing we're trying to accomplish, which is the Super Bowl."

While Robinson still is in the midst of making the adjustment from the college game to the pros – he's in his second year – Bernadeau and Schwartz are a little further along in that regard. Both are third-year pros, and both played in all 16 games last season. Robinson played in one.

"I feel more comfortable now," Schwartz said. "I had a year on the practice squad to kind of get used to playing in the NFL – kind of a redshirt year – and I felt throughout the year that I was getting better as practice went along.

"And then when my number was called last year, I was ready to go."

Despite now competing for the right guard spot, Bernadeau actually started seven games at left guard last season after Gross suffered a season-ending leg injury and Wharton slid over to Gross' slot. Schwartz started the final three games at right tackle for Otah.

At Fan Fest on Saturday, Robinson saw some time at right tackle.

"That's what the coaches want out of guys, for them to be able to play multiple positions," Schwartz said. "That makes you more valuable."

Regardless of which player grabs the starting spot, Schwartz, Bernadeau and Robinson all appear to be in position to contribute along the line in 2010.

The line is coming off a strong season, helping running backs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart become the first teammates in NFL history to each rush for 1,100 yards in the same season and helping quarterback Matt Moore go 4-1 over the final month of the season.

"It would be great to have two guys with 1,100 yards again, but if we don't that's OK because our ultimate goal is to win the championship," Bernadeau said. "I know Matt trusts the offensive line 100 percent, and it's our job to keep that trust."

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