August 30, 2012; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Carolina Panthers tackle Garry Williams (65) and center Jeff Byers (62) pass block against the Pittsburgh Steelers during the first quarter at Heinz Field. The Pittsburgh Steelers won 17-16. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-US PRESSWIRE

Panthers' Offensive Line Play Offensive; Byers Out, Williams In

I got the idea for this article over a reply to a previous post regarding team needs for next season. I thought about it for a little while and realize that, yes, LT Jordan Gross may be having a down season, but the entire line is having a down season.

Ryan Kalil’s injury hasn’t helped matters. His injury has forced RG Geoff Hangartner back to center, where he played in college, leaving the RG spot to Jeff Byers. After a month of especially poor play, Head Coach Ron Rivera announced yesterday that Garry Williams will get the starting nod against the Philadelphia Eagles on Monday Night Football.

And yes, the MNF guys planned a stinker of a matchup last season since both teams have slid – or “Slud” if your name is Dizzy Dean – to irrelevance by now this year. I’d be surprised if EITHER coach keeps his job at the end of the year.

Gross was a pro-bowler last season. Fine. Since fans do the voting, I’ve always had an asterisk by anyone who is a “pro bowler” but the fans generally pick decent players if not the very top ones every year at each position. Cam’s athletic ability caused teams to have to adjust and that probably helped his line and the sack numbers last year, but those numbers are up across the board this season. Still, if the Panthers are going to improve their O-line, they’ll need to address that right guard spot first and foremost.

Jeff Byers is at best a 2nd or 3rd-string type of player. A career backup. Williams isn’t much better although he outplayed Byers and was finally inserted in the game last week against the Bucs, playing most of the contest over Byers.

Amini Silatolu is really showing how raw he is, giving up a sack (along with Byers) in the Broncos game. Rivera even brought in troubled ex-Panther and Cardinal Jeremy Bridges in an attempt to shore up the guard spot, thrown into turmoil with Kalil’s injury and Hangartner’s subsequent move to center.

November 4, 2012; Landover, MD, USA; Carolina Panthers guard Geoff Hangartner (63) lines up against the Washington Redskins at FedEx Field. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-US PRESSWIRE

Rivera even tinkered with moving second-year player Byron Bell to the RG spot for a game before putting him back at his natural position. Clearly, the guard play has been the weakest spot in the Panthers’ O-line – on both sides.

Silatolu was thought to be a big upgrade in the run-blocking department when he was drafted, but that hasn’t happened as the Panthers are right in the middle in the running game at 16th overall in the NFL. They showed their utter lack of ability to move defenders off the ball last week against the Bucs when they needed the running game to get at least one first down late in the game to protect a lead.

On two consecutive series, they ran the ball four times on 1st and 2nd down….for a minus-3 yards on those 4 critical rushing attempts. Needless to say, that just won’t cut it.

So, for now at least, Williams is the starter at RG, but look for the Panthers to pick up either a good OG or a good backup OG or C in the offseason either via a free agent signing or the draft.

If they go the draft route, it’ll likely be a guard probably in the middle rounds someplace…3rd to 5th round most likely. The injury to Kalil exposed the lack of talent and depth in the interior and in order to get their running game going, they’re going to need improvement out of Silatolu and a new body at right guard…even if it’s initially to back up Hangartner.

The pedestrian play of Jordan Gross and Byron Bell this season are not the biggest areas of concern on the line by comparison. Both are decent players having average seasons as the offense has regressed across the board. The rebuilding job on the inside began with Silatolu. In 2013, it needs to be completed.

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