Offensive Line Seeks Same Continuity
The Carolina Panthers’ Super Bowl run in 2015 was marked by consistency across the offensive line. How does that unit shape up for 2016?
The final offensive position group to be detailed was extremely consistent throughout the 2015 season. Three of five offensive lineman started every game for the Carolina Panthers during the year and the remaining two missed only four games … combined. That consistency led to good quarterback protection, an improved run game and a cohesiveness that Carolina was able to ride all the way to Super Bowl 50.
The good news; all five of those starters will return and much like the other offensive positions they should continue to be very productive. However, many analysts and fans believed that general manager Dave Gettleman would select an offensive tackle at some point in the draft to add competition and depth — he did not.
Three linemen (Amini Silatolu, Fernando Velasco and Tyronne Green) from last season are no longer in Carolina, so Gettleman must sign some offensive linemen as undrafted free agents; however, he did not. Gettleman was planning ahead all along and had already addressed depth on the line prior to the draft with the return of a couple of practice squad members, futures signings of multiple players and one free agent.
Starting tackles Michael Oher and Mike Remmers return in 2016 after each starting every game for Carolina a year ago. That said, if anyone is going to be supplanted on an offensive line that has been so consistent it will be at one of these two positions. Much has been made about Remmers’ Super Bowl performance, but until that point he had put together a career year and will be the front-runner beginning camp.
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Second-year player Daryl Williams, who started two games, will be working hard to stay in the lineup and was developing into a potential full-time starter down the stretch. Also competing for a permanent roster spot and adding to the tackle depth will be two guys who spent time on different practice squads during 2015 — David Foucault with Carolina and Donald Hawkins, with both the Dolphins and 49ers.
Guards Trai Turner and Andrew Norwell both cemented themselves into the interior of the offensive line during their second seasons with the Panthers. Turner started every game while Norwell missed three games due to a hamstring injury. Both should continue to improve with their experience and the familiarity with those around them will be paramount.
Chris Scott returns in a back-up role after seeing action in 13 games a year ago in a similar role and as a member of Carolina’s special teams. Practice squad member Reese Dismukes, who can also play center, will join Tyler Larsen from Washington and David Yankey, previously with Minnesota, who were signed to futures contracts prior to the draft in order to add depth and competition at the guard position.
All-Pro center Ryan Kalil returns as the anchor of the offensive line for his 10th season in Carolina. With the departure of Velasco, who started one game for Kalil in 2015, Gettleman signed free agent Gino Gradkowski should a similar situation arise this season. Matt Masifilo, a former defensive tackle turned center, will also be working to earn a roster spot during training camp and the preseason.
Much like the rest of the Panthers’ offense, the key components that were present in 2015 are returning in the coming year and should continue to be productive. The questions lie in how the reserves perform early determining which guys earn what roster positions and how productive they can be when called upon.
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Last year’s continuity along the offensive line was something extremely special and hopefully offensive line coach Ray Brown will be able to generate similar success with a continued focus on maintaining the same level of persistence and execution in 2016.