Jordan Gross has just finished another football practice, one of the thousands he has completed in his career. He stands there, sweaty and polite, as I ask him: “Are you 100 percent healthy?”

“One hundred percent is a relative term,” the Panthers’ longtime left tackle says. “I couldn’t honestly answer yes to that question for the last five or six years.”

That’s what the NFL does to your body, even to a man who is 6-foot-4 and weighs 305 pounds. Gross will begin his 11th NFL season this year, all with the Panthers, and he along with everyone else knows it could be his last.

And yet Gross is optimistic. He has seen 10 previous Panthers teams come and go, including three that made the playoffs. He thinks this one could – and should – get there, too. He would like this to be part of his legacy, to leave the Panthers in a better place than where he found them.

“We’ve got all the pieces in place,” Gross says. “We’ve drafted well the last few years. Those guys are getting better and better. We drafted well this year. A few old guys are still hanging around to try to plug some holes. There are really just no excuses for us not to do well.”

Gross, 32, is one of the old guys. Standing as a voice of reason in the Panthers locker room much like Jake Delhomme, Mike Minter and Sam Mills did before him, Gross is perennially elected a team captain.

“Brandon LaFell gave me a compliment last year,” Gross says. “It was during a TV timeout at New Orleans. We were backed up in our own end zone and the crowd was going nuts. He came up to me in the huddle and said, ‘I love being in the huddle with you because you always make me feel comfortable and confident.’ To me, that’s what a captain should be. Even if you don’t feel like you’ve got it all together, you act like you do. Just provide guidance and solace – the rudder for the team.”

Gross holds the team record for most starts in franchise history, at 151. He started for the Panthers as a rookie on the 2003 Super Bowl team. He has protected the blind side for quarterbacks from Delhomme to Cam Newton and from Vinny Testaverde to David Carr.