Carolina Panthers must exercise patience with rookie Ikem Ekwonu
When it comes to Ikem Ekwonu’s slow start, the Carolina Panthers and its fanbase must exercise patience with the rookie offensive tackle in 2022.
Since the retirement of Jordan Gross after the 2013 season, the Carolina Panthers continuously failed to address one of the premier positions in football. Players such as Byron Bell, Matt Kalil, Michael Oher, Mike Remmers, and Russell Okung have started at left tackle for the organization since the All-Pro’s retirement, failing to provide the consistency needed.
The Panthers’ lack of effort to address the position during Cam Newton’s first tenure frustrated many fans and media alike. Former general manager Dave Gettleman, known to have a knack for taking “hog mollies” in the trenches, failed to find or attempt to find Gross’ successor during his time in Carolina from 2013 to 2017.
Even Marty Hurney in his second stint couldn’t identify a formidable talent at left tackle that would be a cornerstone piece for years to come.
It wasn’t until this past offseason that the Panthers’ front office finally looked to address the position. With the No. 6 overall pick in the NFL Draft, head coach Matt Rhule and general manager Scott Fitterer had plenty of options when it came to selecting an blindside protector.
The decision was ultimately made to draft North Carolina State’s Ikem Ekwonu with other tackles such as Alabama’s Evan Neal and Mississippi State’s Charles Cross available.
Ekwonu showcased immense physical ability with incredible raw power at the point of attack during the player’s time in college. His calling card was his ability as a run blocker, mauling defenders at the line of scrimmage and when moving to the second level.
There is no doubt Ekwonu has high-level traits and adequate movement skills. The physical and functional athleticism alone made him a high, top-10 draft pick.
However, in pass protection, he was still coming along. There were instances where Ekwonu would hit his landmarks and display a stout anchor.
Even so, Ekwonu still had room for growth. Through two games this season, the rookie left tackle has struggled in pass protection. Even so, the Charlotte native should be given the benefit of the doubt despite the high expectations.