Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA Today Sports

Carolina Panthers: Nate Chandler the Man at LT?

The retirement of Jordan Gross led to a gaping hole at left tackle heading into the NFL Draft, and fans were in an uproar as they watched their beloved Carolina Panthers continually pass on offensive tackles.  However, what if the answer is already on the roster, and this mystery man can actually make a long-term impact at left tackle?

Allow me to introduce Nate Chandler.

Chandler, a 6’4″, 310-pound converted defensive tackle has shown promise when given the opportunity.  No, he isn’t a seasoned veteran that dominates opposing defenses, but there is a lot to be excited about for the former UCLA-standout who started eight games last year at guard.

Nobody truly knows if Chandler was drafted to be a future defensive tackle, offensive lineman or tight-end for the Carolina Panthers, but the kid is definitely an athlete.  At UCLA, he mainly played defensive tackle after being recruited by the Bruins as one of the top tight end prospects in the country.

The conversion to the defensive line was very natural for Chandler, so Panther Nation can breathe easier knowing that trying to convert him to tackle isn’t some crazy idea tossed out by the coaching staff.  The kid is versatile, smart, and very athletic.

Chandler will turn 25 in June, so his best years are still very much in front of him.  So what makes Nate Chandler a more viable option than Byron Bell, or even maybe soliciting Travelle Wharton to put retirement on hold and come back for another season?

Athleticism is the first thing that stands out when watching film of Chandler.  He is versatile and has nimble feet which allow him to take on the increased trend towards  speedy and athletic defensive ends.  Carolina fans know that we have Cam Jordan, Junior Galette, Michael Johnson and Tyson Jackson lurking as pass rushers eager to get after Cam Newton six times a season.  Having a strong thick offensive lineman is good, but in 2014, equally as important is the ability to mirror the agile pass rushers that you face each Sunday.

Pass blocking is a strength of Chandler.  He graded out extremely high as a pass blocker, so playing him inside at guard and at right tackle, might not have been the best option in 2013.  A mauling road-grader, he is not.  An intelligent and agile pass blocker, he is.  Play to his strengths and let him get a season of reps protecting Newton’s blindside, and Carolina will be able to scratch left tackle off their big board during the 2015 Draft.

Nate Chandler’s motor doesn’t stop.  He plays through the whistle and looks to dominate his assignment in the trenches.  His aggressiveness is common among defensive linemen, and he has carried this important attribute over to the offensive line.

Greg Hardy and Charles Johnson.  Every practice that Chandler lines up in, he will stare down both of these electric and dominating defensive ends.  Every snap, he will be tasked with keeping these two explosive pass-rushers out of the backfield.  The experience and knowledge he will gain from facing these two snap, after snap, will fuel Chandler’s fire to getting better each day.

And oh, by the way, there’s also Luke Kuechly, Thomas Davis and Thomas DeCoud flashing blitz in the box.  If that’s not enough, there’s still Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short stunting and slanting over you, trying to disrupt the edge.  Carolina’s defense is their calling card, and this card will be utilized by Chandler to step his game up.

For all of the high hopes and good that Nate Chandler brings to the table, there are areas he must improve in order to solidify Cam’s weak side.  His hands and technique have to improve.  That initial punch needs to be there consistently and he must be able to understand the pre-snap protection calls being barked out.

Keeping the play in front of him is easier said than done.  The league is full of elite talent at RDE and they are purposely put there to get after the quarterback.  Chandler must never let his high-football IQ and athleticism allow him to coast through plays.

Run blocking is something that he must improve upon as well.  Still a student of the offensive side of the ball, a learning curve is to be expected.  It won’t excuse him from playing poorly, so he will have to use his strong work ethic to spend a lot of time in the film room studying.  The Panthers will rely on the run game in 2014 to set up Newton and the passing game, and it is unclear how strong Amini Silatolu will be at left guard after an injury ended his 2013 season.  He showed promise at the end of his rookie 2012 season, but couldn’t build on that success as he only played three games in 2013.  He and Chandler will be counted on to seal up the weak side of the field.

There is a changing of the guard (or should I say tackle) in Carolina as veterans that Panther fans adored for so many years have moved on.  Youth and a turn towards the future has taken over in Carolina.  This is now Cam Newton’s offense and Kelvin Benjamin’s receiving unit.   The average age of the starting defense is 25-years old and there are a few impact players that are already feared around the NFL.

Nate Chandler is looking to step in to one of the highest-pressure positions on the field.  He will be entrusted to protect their franchise signal-caller from being attacked.  There will be a battle during the summer to step in and take over this very important position, and Nate Chandler is the man who will win the left tackle position.

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Tags: Carolina Panthers Jordan Gross Nate Chandler

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