5 eye-popping Carolina Panthers surprises at their 2022 bye week

(Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports) Ikem Ekwonu
(Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports) Ikem Ekwonu /
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Carolina Panthers
(Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports) Ikem Ekwonu /

Ikem Ekwonu – Carolina Panthers OT

The pressure on rookie left tackle Ikem Ekwonu cannot be understated. He was drafted No. 6 overall in the hope of finally ending the revolving blindside door since the retirement of Jordan Gross in 2013 – a riddle the Carolina Panthers had trouble solving before his arrival.

After a training camp battle with Brady Christensen, the North Carolina State product was given the start ahead of their preseason finale. It was a tough season debut for Ekwonu as he went against arguably the league’s best pass rusher in Myles Garrett, which came with an expected share of complications.

Ekwonu gave up two sacks, but that’s to be expected against someone with Garrett’s quality. But since his chastening opening debut, the player has been slowly improving on what is fast becoming a top-10 offensive line in Carolina.

After giving up a critical sack late against the New York Giants in Week 2,  Ekwonu has gone an impressive 10 weeks without giving up a sack. An extraordinary turnaround from the player considering his lack of experience in a professional environment.

Ekwonu was a known quantity in the run game – a complete bulldozer in college. But it was questions around his pass blocking that left some fans wondering how long he would take to adjust.

It was always clear the player would be a top-level tackle. Ekwonu’s immediate impact has been surprising, which is also a testament to the skill of offensive line coach James Campen.