How is Ikem Ekwonu adjusting to life with the Carolina Panthers?
By Dean Jones
How is offensive tackle Ikem Ekwonu adjusting to life with the Carolina Panthers after the team selected him at No. 6 overall in the 2022 NFL Draft?
The Carolina Panthers got lucky during the draft when the top five filled up with defensive players. This provided the organization with an opportunity to take the best prospect on their board, which just so happened to fill a significant need for good measure.
Ikem Ekwonu left the biggest impression imaginable during his pre-draft assessment. But it was hard to envisage a scenario where the North Carolina State product fell into the Panthers‘ laps given that he was in contention to become the first player taken.
As it turned out, Ekwonu’s homecoming was written in the stars. Something that could finally provide Carolina with a franchise left tackle they’ve lacked since Jordan Gross retired almost a decade ago.
It`s been a baptism of fire for Ekwonu since arriving in Carolina for workouts. The coaching staff is giving the lineman all he can handle, which the blindside presence is taking on with his customary determination and work ethic to ensure a smooth adjustment.
"“Best advice? Just work. Work. Don’t be scared of being a rookie. There’s a lot of rookie stuff you’ve got to go through. Just really just the rites of passage, things that can be fun more than anything. Just being a rookie and work hard, that’s pretty much it.”"
Carolina Panthers will expect a lot from Ikem Ekwonu in 2022
Expectations could not be higher for Ekwonu. He grew up in the stands at Bank of America Stadium supporting the Panthers and is already familiar with what makes the franchise so special to many.
Obviously, there will be some growing pains. Not everyone comes into the NFL and performs like Rashawn Slater and Tristan Wirfs right out of the gate, but Ekwonu has the physical traits and mentality to become a big-time force in no time at all.
Building the right foundations and acquiring as much knowledge as possible is Ekwonu’s first objective before training camp in the stifling heat of Spartanburg. This is where things get more intense, but the rookie is fully focused and ready to become the answer to Carolina’s prayers after so much inconsistency at one of the most important positions on the field.
"“I feel like it’s more being consistent. They drafted me sixth overall; they drafted me for a reason, they don’t want me to do any more or any less. They want me to be the same player they saw and evaluated. So I’m going to be that guy each and every day.”"
For all the pre-draft talk of quarterbacks, Carolina was clearly focused on finding an elite left tackle based on their recent footage from the Panthers’ Confidential. This was undoubtedly music to the ears of fans that witnessed such torrid performances from others who tried to become Gross’ successor.
Adding Ekwonu to an offensive line that can also call upon Taylor Moton, Austin Corbett, and Bradley Bozeman represents a significant upgrade for the Panthers. One that could see this unit emerge as a true force if James Campen gets them all singing from the same hymn sheet quickly.
Ekwonu has the scope to become an instant difference-maker. A tone-setter that can provide stability and also inspire those around him.
The sooner this happens, the better. But nobody will be working harder than Ekwonu to make his dreams a reality.