5 key observations from Panthers second preseason game at Patriots

(David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports) P.J. Walker
(David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports) P.J. Walker /
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Carolina Panthers
(Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports) Ikem Ekwonu /

Carolina Panthers OT Ikem Ekwonu has a lot to learn

There was an enormous sense of excitement this week when Matt Rhule finally named Ikem Ekwonu as the starting left tackle. The Carolina Panthers rested a lot of starters at the New England Patriots, but Matt Rhule opened the game with what’s expected to be the best left-side tandem on the offensive line.

Ekwonu operated on the blindside and had second-year-pro Brady Christensen on the interior. The North Carolina State product opened the game with a pancake on the very first play, but his pass protection was sometimes suspect, which was the big question mark coming out of college.

This is all part of the learning experience for Ekwonu. But there isn’t much time to hone his craft with Week 1 and a clash against stud edge rusher Myles Garrett on the immediate horizon.

"“Definitely, that part of the game is something I want to keep growing and developing. That’s part of the game I feel pretty good about coming out of college, but the other side, the pass-protection side, is something I want to shore up. I feel like I’ve definitely made some improvements. Getting my timing right. I still need some work, but compared to where I was earlier in the summer, strides have been taken there.”"

Anyone expecting Ekwonu’s rookie campaign to be smooth sailing throughout is kidding themselves. There will be errors and lapses in judgment, but the Panthers have to keep faith with their No. 6 overall selection en route to becoming a foundational piece for this team long-term.