Panthers' Wharton lost for season, Morgan indefinitely

Updated: September 11, 2006, 10:06 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

Carolina Panthers starting left offensive tackle Travelle Wharton, whose solid play helped solidify the unit last year, will miss the rest of the season after tearing two ligaments in his left knee late in the first half of Sunday's season-opening loss to the Atlanta Falcons.

Dan Morgan
Morgan

Travelle Wharton
Wharton

Team officials and league sources told ESPN.com's Len Pasquarelli on Monday evening that the 25-year-old Wharton tore the anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in Carolina's 20-6 loss to Atlanta.

The loss of Wharton, a third-round pick in the 2004 draft who started the Panthers' last 28 regular-season games, forced Carolina to shuffle several players along the offensive line to try to contain right end John Abraham. None of them worked. Abraham had two sacks, knocked down a pass and forced two fumbles, having his way with anyone the Panthers put up against him.

Meanwhile, the Panthers are uncertain about Dan Morgan's future after the linebacker suffered a concussion -- at least the fifth of his career -- in the second quarter Sunday and did not return. Without Morgan anchoring the middle of the defense, the Falcons rushed for 252 yards, the second most allowed by Carolina in its 12-year history.

Playing without injured All-Pro receiver Steve Smith, the Panthers managed just 65 yards rushing and Atlanta sacked Jake Delhomme four times.

Morgan, the team's No. 1 pick in 2001, suffered two concussions in 2003, two more in 2004 and at least one this year, missing seven games and parts of six others with concussions. He's missed a total of 25 games in his career.

The suspicion surrounding Wharton's injury was that the third-year veteran had sustained a serious injury, and an MRI examination on Monday confirmed the team's worst fears. It is not yet known when Wharton will undergo surgery to repair the ligament damage.

It remains to be seen how the Panthers address Wharton's absence, but any move coach John Fox makes will certainly weaken the line.

On Sunday, the Panthers first moved left guard Mike Wahle to tackle and inserted Geoff Hangartner at left guard. Wahle surrendered a 12-yard sack to Abraham on the final play of the first half; he then went back to guard for the start of the third quarter. Carolina's coaching staff, scrambling for an antidote to the staunch Falcons' pass rush, used right tackle Jordan Gross on the left side for the second half and Todd Fordham moved into the right tackle slot. Abraham ran around Gross for an eight-yard sack.

Probably the easiest move will be to switch Gross full-time to the left side and move Fordham into the starting lineup at right tackle. But Gross, the Panthers' first-round choice in the 2003 draft, did not play well when Carolina moved him to left tackle in 2004, this after a stellar campaign on the right side during his rookie season. As a result, Gross moved back to right tackle, the position with which he is more familiar and obviously more comfortable, in last year's training camp.

Senior writer Len Pasquarelli covers the NFL for ESPN.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.