The Carolina Panthers boasted one of the best offensive lines in the NFL, with Jordan Gross, Travelle Wharton and Ryan Kalil anchoring the left and middle and Jeff Otah clearing lanes on the right. But with Otah and Wharton clearly out of the picture and Kalil on the sideline, the Panthers’ offensive line was a shadow of its former self last season. The line struggled in all areas unable to create lanes for DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart while also failing to keep Cam Newton in the pocket and on his feet.
There is hope though. Kalil has recovered from Lisfranc surgery and looks ready for action, and Wharton has returned to the fold as well. What can we expect this year from offensive line? Will they be the strength of the team, or will they be its downfall? Here is a breakdown:
Jordan Gross should be solid as always, but I don’t see him being All-Pro like he was in 2008 unless the offense has a big season. The real question is Byron Bell, whose presence on the right side is worrisome. While Bell did show promise in his first starts with Carolina a couple years ago, the weaknesses of the undrafted rookie have become apparent. While he is alright as run blocker, he struggles in pass protection, especially against smaller, faster rushers. He’s lucky Bruce Irvin is suspended for the season opener against the Seattle Seahawks, because he would have his hands full with him. Carolina is thin behind Bell and Gross with Nate Chandler and Garry Williams being the only other tackles, and Williams is currently starting at right guard. Look for Chandler, a converted defensive lineman, to get solid action in relief of Bell.
Amini Silatolu is projected to be the left guard once he returns from injury, but Wharton will man his spot until then. Silatolu has shown flashes of brilliance when he’s been healthy, so his return will be a welcome one. Wharton should play well in his stead. He’s shown himself to be a solid guard in his tenure in Carolina, but his age is a concern. Look for Wharton to move to right guard once Silatolu returns, replacing the shaky Garry Williams. Williams, like Bell, has a myriad of question marks, but he has the potential to be solid contributor. Carolina has some depth at guard, or at least it will once rookie Edmund Kugbila returns. Both Chris Scott and Jeff Byers can fill in at guard, with Byers being capable at center as well.
Everyone knows that Kalil is one of the best in the business, but it will be interesting to see how he bounces back from injury. Hopefully he can return to being the strength of the offense, turning the disjointed line into an efficient unit. If Kalil can get the line to play with some synergy, then they can overcome their weaknesses and set up the offense for an excellent season. As to who will play behind Kalil, there a few strange faces, one of them being tryout player Brian Folkerts. While Folkerts is a nice story, I doubt he’d fare well in place of Kalil, nor would Jeff Byers. While both may be able to block, Kalil has a unique command of this line that allows the offense to hum. We saw what happened last season when Kalil was out, and that’s why he’s one of Carolina’s most invaluable players.