Blake Baxter

The Unique Impact Of Jordan Gross

Created on Aug. 04, 2013 1:51 AM EST

We, the sports-obsessed, are smack in the middle of the hot dog days of summer. It is a slow time when baseball is the only major sport in session and there is a bit of a void in the sports world. But our hunger for sports is insatiable, so the sports community collectively monitors the goings-on of NBA free agency and frets over the off the field behavior of future stars. Rest assured though -football season is only a little over a month away and then we can all get back to the games. Until then, baseball season will carry on as teams enter the last month of the season, where contenders and pretenders alike make their final push for the playoffs.

In football, the rosters are larger but there are no minor leagues to make late season call-ups, so there is a lot more pressure than in baseball. If you do not make the team, then you are out of luck and have to start over. It takes a tremendous amount of talent and work ethic just to make an NFL team and even more to make an impact. In a sport as fierce and volatile as football, there are few certainties.

Left tackle Jordan Gross is one of 90 guys on the Carolina Panthers offseason roster. A month from now, when the preseason concludes, he will be one of 53 players on Carolina’s active roster. When the season starts, Gross will be one of 22 starters and he will play every game. This is about as close to a certainty as you can find in this modern era of football.

Gross has been the anchor of Carolina’s offensive line for 11 seasons now and has shown remarkable durability. The only exception to what has become the standard was in the latter half of the 2009 season, when Gross broke his leg and missed seven games. Other than that, he has only missed two starts in his entire NFL career.

Before he was the blind side-protecting stalwart for the Panthers, Gross attended the University of Utah. In both his sophomore and junior seasons, he achieved All-Mountain West Conference Honorable Mention while demonstrating versatility, playing both left and right tackle for the Utes, as well as left guard. In his senior season, he broke through by earning All-Mountain West Conference first team honors and was named a consensus first team All-American. Impressively, Gross did not allow a single sack in those last two years. The Panthers picked him with the 8th overall pick in the 2003 NFL Draft.

As a young gun in his rookie season, Gross received acclaim for his performance in Carolina’s memorable and unlikely 2003 Super Bowl run. That season, he played right tackle but in 2004, he made the switch to the left side. Gross switched back and forth several times over the next season. In 2008 – the last season the Panthers made the playoffs – Gross made the Pro Bowl for the first time. Following the season, he inked a lucrative six-year deal that made him one of the most highly paid offensive linemen in the league.

The Panthers entered the 2009 season with high playoff expectations, but former QB Jake Delhomme fell apart, Gross got hurt and the Panthers stumbled to a .500 record. Carolina was even worse in 2010. The team won just two games and parted ways with its coaching staff at season’s end. Nevertheless, Gross came back strong and received Pro Bowl honors for his efforts.

The past two seasons have been a little better (6-10, 7-9), but unremarkable overall. This season, there is some hope that the Panthers could be a dark horse playoff candidate. It is a much different team since the last time the Panthers went on a surprise run.

Back then, Gross had size, ambition and brute force, but little experience. Now, there is hardly anyone that has as much experience as him. He is still the anchor of the O-Line, albeit with an altered role. Gross is a mentor to second-year LG Amini Silatolu and third-year RT Byron Bell. Though he is not as quick as he once was, Gross is still effective due in large part to his exemplary work ethic.

But beyond his skill set and his experience, Gross has a fun-loving personality that has made him the heart and soul of the team. For example, earlier this summer, star QB Cam Newton sat solemnly answering mundane questions at a press conference after a May practice. To the media’s surprise and delight, Gross swiftly rushed the stage and made goofy faces behind Newton’s shoulder before sprinting away. It was a small, spontaneous gesture that actually said something insightful. The message was clear: “Have some fun, Cam. You get to play football for a living. Lighten up.”

It also showed that Gross is far from shy.

Aside from his duties on game days, Jordan Gross is the host of a podcast called “This is Gross”. Every so often, he records an episode in which he jokes around, talks about the team and interviews teammates and coaches. You would think that with these chops he would be a natural as an analyst or broadcaster, but Gross has expressed interest in working for the Panthers when he retires.

That day might be quickly approaching as the 33-year-old lifetime Panther is in the last season of his contract, which was restructured after he took a pay cut to remain with the team for this upcoming season. Gross has already said that he will never play for another team. Regardless of this season's outcome, Jordan Gross is certain to make an impact for the 2013 Panthers. 

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