Panthers Problems on Offensive Line Verging on Untenable

When Panthers right tackle Daryl Williams suffered a knee injury the first week of training camp, everyone knew it would test the Carolina’s offensive line depth. Fortunately, Carolina had Taylor Moton. At the time, Moton was competing for the left guard position that was left open with the departure of Andrew Norwell. Carolina had never wanted Moton to be a guard. He had always been slated to play tackle, but with Daryl Williams ascension and Matt Kalil’s large free agent contract, Moton searched to find his role. 

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As Moton slid in at right tackle, Amini Silatolu emerged as the frontrunner at left guard, but would soon be sidelined by a torn meniscus. Silatolu immediately underwent surgery and would be reevaluated on a week to week basis. At the time, the tone surrounding Silatolu’s loss was somewhat grim. In itself, losing Silatolu only hurt the line but so much. He was a versatile backup who always hung around on the roster, but hadn’t shown he was a reliable starter on the field. Combined with the loss of Williams, and losing Silotulo seriously tested offensive line depth. 

It wasn’t time to panic, at least that is what Carolina’s management showed publically. “We think we've got solid depth and we've got a couple of young guys we really have high hopes for, as well,” Ron Rivera calmed. There were still guys, like Jeremiah Sirles and Brandon Mahon, and Moton looked great in his 2018 preseason debut against the Bills. Although the group wasn’t deep, it was manageable. 2nd round pick Moton, Pro Bowl Trai Turner, All-Pro Ryan Kalil, and his brother, Matt, were talented enough for a lunch pail player to step in at guard.  We just have to be really smart,” Rivera stated, “ and hopefully lucky a little bit, too."

After the first preseason game, Carolina had to feel optimistic about Moton’s performance. If they could just figure out left guard position, they could just be lucky enough to build a little continuity among that offensive line. After a 71-yd rushing touchdown by Christian McCaffrey on the first drive of the preseason match against Miami, it actually looked like it could happen. Amidst Carolina’s rushing success, however, left tackle Matt Kalil would struggle mightily against Robert Quinn. Kalil hadn’t had a great game in week one, surrendering a sack and a pressure, but he had an atrocious game against Miami. The preseason is a time where teams and individual players hope to improve week to week, but Kalil was stepping back. 

Kalil was absent when Carolina returned to the practice field after a day off. Rivera admitted it was a little “worrisome” not having Kalil practicing, but consoled that they were “just trying to get him a little rest.” Rivera’s optimism, at the time, felt a little manufactured. Kalil would miss practice the following day and then immediately have his knee scoped after meeting with Dr. James Andrews. 

Losing three starting linemen would be near devastating for any team, and it seemed a particularly threatening handicap given the uncertainty surrounding Carolina’s line prior to these injuries. The only saving graces were that Moton has looked great wherever Carolina has stuck him and that Cam Newton is the only quarterback who actually has a chance of making this disaster work. These injuries could devastate Carolina’s odds of returning to last year’s playoff form and as a serious Super Bowl contender. This site for sports betting will provide some good insight on any changes to the team's odds that happen during the road to the Super Bowl. Expectations for Newton are high but if he's pushed too hard, Carolina's Super Bowl odds may just plummet and end in disaster.

A bizarre twist in this story is that Rivera has celebrated sightings of both Williams and Silatolu merely walking around. The situation is dire and the hope is that one of these guys, now Kalil being the one farthest out now, could actually be a contributor sooner than later. Just today, Bill Voth reported that Silotolu could be ready by week one, but Kalil and Williams wouldn’t. There is even some consideration that Carolina may designate Williams to IR, making him unavailable until Week 8. 

Earlier this week, Joe Person of the Athletic, asked River if it was “safe to assume that Marty Hurney will be watching roster cuts around the league in hopes of finding a veteran offensive lineman.” River said he couldn’t speak to their exact plan, but he could say they were working nonstop. Person was right, it is safe to say that Hurney will be watching these cuts closely. The depth of injuries to the offensive line has been so systemic that Carolina’s current personnel is verging on untenable. 

It seems wishful thinking that Williams could rehab a torn MCL and Silatolu a torn meniscus and be counted upon to be valuable contributors throughout the season. Getting them back simply to play would be a win right now. Having one return and play well would be a blessing, and both return and play well would be near miraculous. 

More pressing is the immediate situation where Carolina is desperately searching to field a formidable offensive line. It’s easy to say that it is a next man up league, but Carolina can’t settle for letting their season be derailed before it even gets started.  Talk has already shifted towards how many lineman will Carolina have to keep as they are forced into a “keep throwing lineman against the wall until we find one stick strategy.” The situation is precarious for sure, and I don’t think it far-fetched to believe that Hurney could is considering more aggressive measures like trading for a right tackle. 

As Carolina enters its third preseason game, they will be watching offensive line carefully to see if they believe there’s enough on the roster to even hope that waiting in Williams is a strategy is reasonable  or if they need to look for outside help before the situation becomes untenable. 

By Tony Dunn
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