Watt, Clowney and Wilfork To Test Panthers O-Line

The Carolina Panthers' Home Opener on September 20th will feature the Houston Texans and their insanely talented Defensive Line.  Vince Wilfork joins All-World JJ Watt and a healthy Jadeveon Clowney.  The Panthers will be tested early by this group and how they do in that test will set the tone for the rest of the season.  And don't forget that Houston's 3-4 Defense is not something the Panthers prepare a lot for since most of their games are against 4-3 opponents.  Should the Panthers be able to hold up against that group (who is arguably the best Defensive Line in the game), then all indications will be positive that Cam Newton will be able to lead this team towards the promised land that we know is possible.  

But let’s face it, the Panthers will go as far as Cam Newton takes them this year.  He has to be healthy which means he can't continue to be pummeled.  This will be his third LT in as many years.  And as many have pointed out, no QB has been hit more in recent years that has Cam Newton:

The Panthers have re-made their O-line to some degree this off-season.  But was it enough? Bryon Bell was shown the door and three potentially starting quality Tackles (arguably)have been brought in.  Michael Oher, Jonathan Martin and Fourth Rounder Daryl Williams all have a shot to be a part of the starting five for the Panthers.  Conventional wisdom says Oher starts at LOT and Martin backs him up.  Though many fans think that isn’t enough, see Twitter ranter Clyde for example:

I must admit that it is disappointing to see some fans take their belief that the Panthers haven't done enough and go so far as to pull against Oher's success.  But that is their right as fans.  I contend the improvement is there.  Oher says he feels the healthiest he has ever felt in his career and I take him at his word.  

Last year, Bryon Bell was the starter and David Foucault aka “The Big Frenchie” backed him up.  A healthy Oher and Martin and Williams there as competition appears to be much improved.  And they better be.  Because if Clyde is right, the Panthers are in real trouble.  

Back to Week 2:  The Oline is going to find out how good or how vulnerable they are in this game.  JJ Watt is the best player in football and Vince Wilfork is going to solidify a run-defense that gave up 135 yards a game last season.  If Oher, Norwell, Kalil, Turner and Williams (My projected starting five) keep Cam clean in Week 2 against that front?  If they can, then I’ll feel really good about our chances in 2015.  If, however, Clyde is right then a promising 2015 could spell trouble for the Panthers and they’ll be looking for Ronnie Stanley in the top 10 of the Draft next year to grab the fourth starting LT in as many years.  That would probably mean the Panthers trying to convince Cam to not leave Carolina in fear of a bad trend continuing.

So as you can see Panther Nation, there is an awful lot riding on our Offensive Line in Week 2 and beyond.  As C3’s Professor recently wrote: What If Michael Oher Plays Well.  But what if he doesn't? I shutter to think what happens if Oher doesn't play well.  My contention is he will.  We'll find out on September 20th.  What do you think?  

By Mel Mayock, aka @PanthersDrafter