Carolina Panthers OL starters leave more questions than answers

(Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports) Matt Paradis
(Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports) Matt Paradis /

There were more questions than answers after an indifferent performance from the starting offensive lineman for the Carolina Panthers in their preseason finale.

For all the good that emerged from the final preseason game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Carolina Panthers still have some real concerns surrounding their protection. Head coach Matt Rhule opted to give his starters a full half at Bank of America Stadium on Friday night, which did nothing to dispel the notion the offensive line unit might become a weak link when the real action begins.

There were some nice moments. And it was no surprise to see quarterback Sam Darnold thriving when he got time to go through his progressions.

However, considering this was Pittsburgh’s second-string, the pressure conceded on occasions left more questions than answers about whether this group can alter perceptions during the 2021 season.

This is an area of the field that was relatively ignored by the Panthers this spring. The signings of Cam Erving and Pat Elflein didn’t exactly fill anybody with confidence, with Carolina also choosing to strengthen other positional groups in the first two rounds of the 2021 NFL Draft.

This leaves them with a projected starting unit featuring Erving and Elflein on the left, with Matt Paradis occupying the center spot.

Paradis restructured his deal to stick around earlier this year. But his overall production against the Steelers left a lot to be desired and a substantial turnaround is needed – and quickly – against stiffer competition in the coming months.

Although the right-hand side of the starting offensive line looked rusty on Friday, Taylor Moton‘s consistency at right tackle is undisputed and John Miller isn’t the worst interior lineman in the world, so things should improve with this duo moving forward.

It wasn’t great.

But the Panthers now have two more weeks to work on things before taking the field against the New York Jets for the regular-season opener.

Carolina Panthers could make changes to their starting OL in the coming weeks.

There might yet be changes. The production of rookie duo Brady Christensen and Deonte Brown has been eye-catching throughout the preseason, so they could yet be thrown into the deep end earlier than originally anticipated.

General manager Scott Fitterer won’t be afraid to bring in a late reinforcement or two from free agency or the waiver wire if the opportunity arises. Carolina has been ruthless in its approach to roster building since his arrival from the Seattle Seahawks, so sentiment will not play any part in the team’s decision-making process.

Fitterer stated this was a fluid situation regarding the Panthers’ protection. It would be a big surprise if last night’s starting lineup didn’t take the field in Week 1, but some of them might be on a very short leash.

The difference in Darnold’s efficiency distributing the football was glaring with a clean pocket. Outside of one or two poor throws, he made the correct calls and it looked like Carolina might just have something with the former USC star.

Darnold was clearly jittery when protection collapsed or he got out on the move. Something the Panthers have to avoid if they want to harbor realistic hopes of making progress in 2021.

Their defense should keep them in games judging by early impressions. But the simple fact is if Darnold cannot get enough time to make a difference, the same complications will emerge for the player and the organization.

Related Story. 5 key observations from the Carolina Panthers preseason win vs. Steelers. light

It was just one half, obviously. But the fears regarding Carolina’s offensive line have only grown after a lackluster display.