With training camp less than two weeks away, CatCrave proudly presents an analysis on each position on the Panthers roster. In an effort to prepare you for the excitement of watching your favorite team prepare for the season, we will analyze the projected strengths and weaknesses at each position.
In the fourth installment of the CatCrave’s pre-training camp position breakdown series, we look to the most unheralded and most important position on the offensive side of the ball following the quarterback; the offensive line. While other positions for the Panthers have faced more questions and have seen upheaval in the off-season (wide receiver, secondary), I believe the front five of Cam Newton fields the most doubt of any group of Carolina.
While Center Ryan Kalil has become one of the best in his field around the league, I am weary to believe that a team which finished 25th in pass protection according to football outsiders will be better; especially considering former All Pro offensive tackle Jordan Gross retired in February.
Strengths: Kalil was ranked as the best center in the NFL by his peers. The Panthers are certainly fortunate to have a stud at center who is able to analyze opposing defensive lines and call the necessary shifts to combat certain formations. A tremendous blocker, Kalil is the best offensive lineman of the Carolina Panthers and their unquestioned leader. And while Gross will be missed, Carolina does have the luxury of throwing in lineman who have experience playing the tackle position.
Bryon Bell and Nate Chandler are battling for the left tackle position and each brings something a little special regardless of Ron Rivera’s choice of who starts at Cam’s blind-spot. Chandler is formerly a defensive end and tight end and brings athleticism to the position, while Bell has the the experience at the position since he played left tackle at New Mexico. Only starting in eight games on the offensive line, I believe Chandler is more likely to play the position as Bell moves to right tackle. The two, last season, started on an offensive line which won seven games following the untimely injuries to several lineman.
Selecting Trai Turner from LSU in the third round was seen as a potential steal for Carolina, and the former Tiger provides depth along the offensive line; specifically the guard position. Chris Scott and Amini Silatolu return respectively to field the right and left guard spot. Silatolu, after suffering a torn ACL last October, is healthy and rearing to go following a season of only three games. Carolina should certainly be helped along the line as Silatolu’s play in his rookie season garnered selection to Pro Football’s Weekly 2012 rookie team.
Weaknesses: Looking over each position of Carolina, I believe the offensive line to be the weakest link of a pretty strong chain for the Panthers. There are many doubts regarding the most important position of the offensive line, the left tackle. The currently unfilled role should leave the Carolina fan base worrying if Cam will be standing upright or running for his life in the backfield.
Bryon Bell, in only 47 games as a Panther, has allowed 22 sacks. And as right tackle last season, Bell allowed nine sacks — ninth worst according to ProFootballFocus among the position. Chandler is the better lineman to start at left tackle, though the two have shuffled at the position during OTAs. While Chandler has only started eight games along the offensive line, he has earned the praise of Hall of Famers, but only time will tell if the praise is warranted or not.
An underlying theme that few have mentioned is the importance of health along this offensive line. Kalil is two years from a foot injury and Amini Silatolu is returning from an ACL tear. It is miraculous that after losing five offensive lineman last year to injury at various points during the season, Carolina still won 12 games. However, if the same injury plague were to repeat again this season, I doubt the Panthers would be able to recover and accomplish a similar record.
A misleading figure, the Panthers were ranked 11th overall in the rushing last season; yet, take away Cam Newton’s scramble yards and the team drops to 26th in the league. There are many questions along this front five. A team anchored by a veteran Pro Bowl tackle allowed 43 sacks, placing them fourteenth last season in that category. After losing Jordan Gross and replacing his presence with less experienced lineman, it will be interesting to see how the shuffling along the offensive line will look in against against the likes of Gerald McCoy, Jared Allen, Cameron Jordan and others this season.