Sports

Schwartz gets big chance on O-line

CHARLOTTE - Carolina Panthers offensive linemen Geoff Schwartz and Mackenzy Bernadeau are roommates on the road and at the team's hotel the night before home games.

As young guys trying to make it in the NFL, they have stayed true to their philosophy:

"We used to go into every game and prepare for it as if this is the game we're finally going to play in," Bernadeau said.

Bernadeau's "time" came a month ago, when he was thrust into the starting lineup at left guard after an injury to Jordan Gross slid starter Travelle Wharton to left tackle.

Now it's Schwartz's turn - again because of injury - when he gets the first start of his career Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings at Bank of America Stadium

Schwartz, a seventh-round draft pick in 2008 who spent last season on the Panthers' practice squad, will be at right tackle after Jeff Otah was placed on injured reserve Tuesday with a knee injury.

"I'll just have to prepare a little better, watch a little more film," said Schwartz (6-foot-6, 331 pounds). "Of course, any opportunity you get in this league, you have to take advantage of it. It doesn't matter how it comes."

Schwartz will be tested severely Sunday. The Vikings, led by end Jared Allen and his NFC-leading 12.5 sacks, have one of the NFL's best and most aggressive defenses.

Schwartz, who has played on special teams this season, had not played a snap on the offensive line until going in for Otah last week in a 20-10 loss against the New England Patriots.

"We're getting ready to find out (how he does) against a pretty salty defense and a pretty good defensive line," Panthers coach John Fox said. "He played a little bit last week against New England there at the end. We've got some other options. We'll just kind of weigh out all our options and expect those guys to step up and play good."

Vikings coach Brad Childress would not be lured into a conversation about how the Panthers' injuries might give his team an advantage.

"My experience is that guys really bow up and compete," said Childress. "A lot of times when you look at those things, you can see things on paper that appear this way, but may not end up being that way because of the human aspect."

Schwartz was a second-team All-Pac 10 player as a senior at Oregon, blocking for Jonathan Stewart, now a teammate on the Panthers. During their senior season of 2007, Schwartz helped Stewart rush for an Oregon single-season record of 1,722 yards.

"He got me to the NFL," Stewart said of Schwartz.

Although Schwartz has labored throughout his football career as an offensive lineman, he was a three-sport star in high school in Pacific Palisades, Calif., also excelling as a basketball center and baseball pitcher.

But he's had moments that most offensive linemen never get to experience, in college and in the pros.

During a broken play against Southern California in Schwartz's senior season, Oregon quarterback Dennis Dixon inadvertently pitched the ball to Schwartz, who was trailing the play instead of Stewart. He gained 3 yards.

"I took one step and the guy tackled me," said Schwartz. "I think it's on the Internet."

And playing on special teams against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Dec. 6, Schwartz grabbed a short kickoff and returned it 16 yards. The Bucs' Clifton Smith suffered a concussion trying to tackle Schwartz.

But if nothing else, one thing Schwartz does have going for him is his immense size. He's the Panthers' second-heaviest player (behind 340-pound Hollis Thomas) and only defensive end Julius Peppers, at 6-foot-7, is taller. It's been reported that Schwartz wears a size 19EEE shoe.

"We usually joke a lot about how huge he is," center Ryan Kalil said. "You don't realize how big of a man he is until you kind of step back and say, 'Wow.' He's just a humongo man.

"We always joke . . . that he's always too big for everything. But he's definitely not too big for this job."

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