Carolina Panthers offensive tackle Ikem Ekwonu is putting the right foundations in place to take the NFL by storm over his rookie campaign in 2022.
Expectations could not be much higher where Ikem Ekwonu is concerned. The formidable offensive lineman is set to assume responsibilities at left tackle right out of the gate and if everything goes as many anticipate, this could be the franchise player that the Carolina Panthers have been looking for since Jordan Gross retired almost a decade ago.
Ekwonu was a gift from the football gods after he fell out of the top five and into Carolina’s hands at No. 6 overall in the 2022 NFL Draft. David Tepper, Scott Fitterer, and Matt Rhule identified the North Carolina State product as their primary target but felt that there was no way in the world he’d make it that far down the pecking order thanks to his exceptional film and shining throughout the assessment process.
The impression left by Ekwonu during early offseason workouts was positive overall. Although Rhule suggested that he needs to raise his game further and get his weight down slightly before the Panthers descend on Spartanburg for training camp next week.
Ikem Ekwonu provides hope for the Carolina Panthers in a position of need
This is a challenge Ekwonu is clearly taking head-on. He’s been working with hugely respected offensive line guru Duke Mayweather in recent days and is also taking the time to learn everything he can from some prominent veterans on the roster with a view to hitting the ground running.
Carolina will be hoping this mindset reaps some early rewards. Things will not be easy for Ekwonu and there will be more than a few bumps in the road against elite edge rushers, but there is no doubt he possesses the physical attributes to hold his own despite the obvious step-up in class.
Ekwonu is bracing himself for every eventuality. This includes coping with adversity after having things all his own way throughout a dominant spell in college with the Wolfpack.
"“Just got to make sure you’re in the right mental space to handle adversity when it comes up. Any time you have adversity, how do you talk to yourself when adversity happens? So when you think of things in the bigger picture, if you have one bad day, that doesn’t mean you’re going to have a bad weekend or a bad week. Handling things one day at a time and staying as positive as you can is something that mindfulness helps with.”"
This is all positive stuff from Ekwonu ahead of what promises to be a fascinating first season in the NFL. There is an old head on young shoulders, with a steely determination and willingness to absorb every single piece of information the sign of every great potential leader.
Something the Panthers drafted him to be in no uncertain terms.
After the carousel of underperforming blindside protectors since Gross hung up his cleats, Ekwonu provides the Panthers with real hope they haven’t had for quite some time. Expecting an All-Pro contribution immediately is unrealistic, but the potential for growth is there for all to see.
The ball is now in Ekwonu’s court, so to speak. And the rookie lineman is leaving no stone unturned in pursuit of greatness.