Before preseason began, the worry weighing on the shoulders of the Carolina Panthers was the left tackle position. “Who is going to be protecting Cam Newton’s blindside?”, was a question that was frequently asked by fans, and has also been bouncing inside of the heads of coaches.
Now that the position has been won, (and the competition wasn’t even close), by former RT Byron Bell, the main worry is, “Who is going to take Bell’s job?”.
The right side is a monumental facet of the offensive line, and was held down for a few years by Bell, who was very solid in run blocking, but was often overwhelmed in pass protection. Now that Bell seems to have his overall game rounded out, the Panthers are hoping they can find a right tackle who can do the same.
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All along, it was always assumed that the competition at left tackle would always leave the loser sitting pretty on the right side. Nate Chandler, the former defensive tackle converted to offensive lineman, was not able to secure the LT position, and it seemed like the RT position was as good as his. However, a new player has emerged, as head coach Ron Rivera frequently warned us he would.
“Don’t count out Garry Williams.”, Rivera continuously echoed when asked about the tackle positions. Most took the message with a grain of salt, considering his admonishing just another coach-ism. However, as preseason grows on, the competition at right tackle is as close as it’s ever been.
Garry Williams has served as a dependable player during his 4-year tenure with Carolina, and has always been a solid guy to come in and fill a guard or tackle position. However, his hopes of starting at right guard in 2013 were cut short, as he suffered torn ACL and MCL week 1 vs. the Seahawks. Now healthy, his chances to win a starting position are once again very likely.
While Williams hasn’t put too much of a performance gap between Chandler and himself, Chandler’s struggles at run blocking seem to have carried over from the 2013 season. The former defensive tackle is very quick and athletic, but he has had trouble showing the strength that is required for the right side of the line.
Nov 18, 2013; Charlotte, NC, USA; Carolina Panthers guard Nate Chandler (78) reacts after the Panthers score in the fourth quarter. The Panthers defeated the Patriots 24-20 at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
Chandler isn’t the only one struggling. Williams had a very solid showing against the Bills a couple of weeks ago, but was taken advantage of by the Chiefs. He had trouble setting his feet, and was blown-up a couple of times throughout the exhibition.
What really helps Williams chances to win the job, however, is Chandler’s lingering knee injury. It had been a problem throughout camp, and it will now keep him sidelined this Friday, vs. the Patriots. With his competition sidelined, it will be monumental for Garry Williams to put-on a great showing in New England. If he does, he could find himself starting in Carolina once again.
The good news for this Panthers offensive line, is that no job has been handed-out. Fierce competition makes for fierce competitors, and the tackle positions have been molded by a vying fire. Their biggest test will be waiting for them Friday night at Gillette Stadium.