Panthers center Ryan Kalil could be flanked by inexperience and question marks

jjones@charlotteobserver.comApril 22, 2014 

Carolina center Ryan Kalil wasn’t about to sugarcoat it on Tuesday when he talked about replacing his friend and long-time Panthers offensive tackle Jordan Gross.

Left tackle is a tough position, Kalil said, and despite being a Pro Bowl center, he doesn’t think he could play there.

There’s one name off the list of potential left tackles for the Panthers, who had their second day of offseason workouts on Tuesday. Kalil, who at 29 is the most veteran offensive lineman on the roster, said he’s curious to see who takes over following Gross’ retirement in January.

Among the candidates already on the Panthers roster are right tackle Byron Bell, guard/tackle Garry Williams and versatile lineman Nate Chandler. Panthers coach Ron Rivera has indicated Bell will get the first shot at the position.

“That’s a different transition from right to left,” Kalil said. “Do I think he’s capable? Yeah, I do. I think Byron’s gotten better with every year.

“But time will tell. That’s a different position and it’s hard to replace a guy like Jordan. I think he’s one of the best tackles in the league. And so those are tough shoes to fill.”

Bell is naturally left-handed, so the coaching staff believes the transition could work for Bell. But he was ranked 52nd among 76 tackles in 2013 by Pro Football Focus, and his footwork may not be good enough for the position.

Chandler, a 6-foot-4, 315-pounder, is another in-house option. He has added some muscle this offseason to compete for the tackle job, Kalil said.

A tight end at UCLA, Chandler played on the defensive line as a rookie and last season converted to offensive guard. He’s the most athletic offensive lineman on the roster, but he’s never started at tackle in the NFL.

Another option is finding a tackle in the draft, but the Panthers select at No. 28 and the top four tackles – Greg Robinson, Jake Matthews, Taylor Lewan and Zack Martin – will likely be gone before Carolina is on the clock.

And even Eric Fisher, last year’s No. 1 overall selection, played his first season at right tackle.

Virginia’s Morgan Moses, Nevada’s Joel Bitonio, Alabama’s Cyrus Kouandjio, North Dakota State’s Billy Turner and Stanford’s Cameron Fleming are all possibilities for the Panthers in the late first or late second rounds.

Veteran guard Travelle Wharton is another piece to the puzzle. Kalil said he’d feel more comfortable having Wharton, a free agent who has missed this week’s workouts while deciding whether to retire, play at left guard beside a younger player.

“I know a lot of teams are excited about the depth of the draft, I know we are,” Kalil said. “But still, it’d be nicer if we were a little bit closer to the front (of the draft) for some of those guys. I’d be more excited if we had Travelle coming back but I don’t know. I can’t get him to tell me what he’s doing.

“I text him ‘one more year’ and he won’t respond back to me. If you can, let him know I’m waiting for him to return my calls.”

Extra points

•  Cam Newton has another nickname for a teammate. Last year the quarterback dubbed muscular tight end Brandon Williams as “Swole Bones,” and this year he has named receiver Tiquan Underwood as “Mr. Swag” for his high-top fade hairstyle. “When you see Tiquan Underwood,” Newton said, “he comes in with this box that he has to kind of go under each and every door.”

•  Linebacker Luke Kuechly is hopeful he’ll finish classes for his marketing degree at Boston College before training camp. Kuechly skipped his final year of eligibility and was drafted by Carolina in 2012. Last year he went back to campus for classes, but this offseason he has stayed home and done online courses. After next week, he’ll have two more courses to complete before getting his diploma.

Jones: 704-358-5323; Twitter: @jjones9

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