Wharton's return gives Panthers LG option

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Offensive guard Travelle Wharton had an old but familiar chauffeur drive him into Charlotte on Monday for his first day back with the Carolina Panthers.

Looks like he'll line up next to his high-priced chauffeur, left tackle Jordan Gross, again as well.

Wharton worked some with the first team at left guard less than 24 hours after signing a one-year deal. It is the position he played for most of his first seven seasons (2004-2011) -- many next to Gross -- at Carolina before being released.

It is the likely position he will occupy when the season opens on Sept. 8 against the Seattle Seahawks.

Coach Ron Rivera said Amini Silatolu, the starting left guard before injuring his hamstring, likely will miss the opener. With Wharton on his natural left side, Rivera said Garry Williams will move to the right side and rotate with Chris Scott.

"I really like the way it's shaping up,'' Rivera said of his line. "That was the one concern."

It should have been. The running game and protection have been average at best through the first three preseason games. Rivera admitted there were worries, primarily because of the injuries.

He feels better with the addition of Wharton, who missed all of last season after suffering a knee injury during the preseason at Cincinnati.

"When you can bring a guy in that can play multiple positions, you've got to do those things,'' Rivera said of Wharton, who can play right guard as well as tackle if needed.

Wharton said several other teams were calling. But being a native of neighboring state South Carolina and owning a house in the same neighborhood as Gross on nearby Lake Wylie, this was where he wanted to be.

"I'm back home," said Wharton, who was waiting with his knee brace when Gross picked him up at about 6 a.m. "I can't ask for anything to be better than to be right here."

Playing beside Gross will speed up Wharton's progress because the two are used to working together and understand the terminology. Gross and Rivera were impressed by the way the 32-year-old lineman picked up the system with little preparation.

"Anytime you can add a veteran guy that everybody knows is a good thing," said Gross, who also gets back one of his best friends. "It provides some security, a sense of comfort and calmness in the room.

"They gave a lot of guys a lot of chances up to this point to earn some spots. They must have felt it was time. I don't disagree with it."

Wharton was well received by everyone. At one point during the day there was a chant of ''Travelle! Travelle!"

"He's loved in the locker room," Gross said. "You don't get to come back for a second tour of duty if the organization and the staff doesn't feel good about you. That's just a testament to who he is."

There is one thing Gross will change moving forward.

"He's driving tomorrow,'' he said with a laugh.