CHARLOTTE -- With everything else Carolina Panthers rookie Ryan Kalil's adjusting to this year, he figures a position switch can't be that big a deal.
Kalil said Tuesday he's getting used to playing right guard, where the team started using him during the final practice of training camp. That would give them another alternative to consider for the first two weeks of the regular season (when Jeremy Bridges will be suspended) without uprooting the line at two spots as they did last week in Philadelphia (when Justin Hartwig moved over and Kalil snapped).
So while the Panthers' second-round pick has never played anywhere but in the middle, making all 39 of his starts for Southern Cal at center, he looks at the move as a chance to expand his resume. Even his DNA makes him a true snapper, since his dad played the position in college and the USFL.
"Now they throw me in the right guard position and I've never played guard, but I'm adjusting pretty well," Kalil said. "The big thing for me is just getting the plays down. I went a month just kind of focusing on the center position and now I've got to move over, but as a center I've got to know all three of those positions anyway, so this is good for me and it also helps me at all three."
Part of the move stems from figuring out a way of getting their best five blockers on the field at the same time. They thought they might be able to use Hartwig at guard, but he may have been as out-of-sorts as Kalil was making his first preseason start last week.
But the Panthers have been impressed by Kalil, an extra pick they landed when they moved down in the first round. He's a technically sound blocker, and they think he's going to be a long-term player as soon as they figure out where to fit him.
Kalil said the most extensive work he'd gotten at guard came at the Senior Bowl, when NFL coaches wanted to see if he was versatile. When asked if there was a moment when he realized the switch might be necessary, Kalil sounded pragmatic.
"When they told me guys are more valuable when they can play all three positions," the smooth rookie said with a laugh. "I kind of hopped in there and just focused on the little things they emphasized you need to do in order to play guard, and for the most part I played well."
The knock on him coming out of college was he might not be big enough to handle the jumbo nose tackles he'd see in the NFL, but he said he thought working against behemoths Kris Jenkins and Maake Kemoeatu has helped him, and he defended his own point-of-attack strength.
"I mean, I'm weighing in at 302 or around there every day, so I don't think I'm terribly small," he said. "But I mean, obviously, I'm not the average big guy. I think where my strengths come from are my technique and my strength overall."
Coach John Fox acknowledged the switch came with complications, but said he thought it was tougher moving outside-in than inside-out.
"One of the things we really liked about Ryan was his flexibility," Fox said. "Playing both inside positions, guard and center, you know we've got some guys that have that flexibility, and we're looking at all our options as we prepare for the regular season, and Ryan's been a bright spot there."
The reasons why the Panthers want to see how he'll handle the switch are obvious. Last year went into the blender during the opener, when Hartwig went down for the season with a groin injury and left tackle Travelle Wharton blew out his knee. That caused Jordan Gross to switch from right tackle to left, led to scrap-heap pickup Bridges starting the rest of the year at right and Geoff Hangartner starting the rest of the year at center.
If something similar happens this year, they hope to be covered, since most of the guys on the first two lines have a legitimate second position.
"The biggest thing they've kind of reiterated through the whole camp is preseason is for moving guys around and finding what it is guys can do and things like that," Kalil said. "Whether I'm on that starting five, I don't know. So, what I've learned so far is, this is what's going to happen, we're going to throw you in a spot, that maybe you're not as comfortable with. But it's one of those things that helps especially in a game where injuries can happen at any second and guys have to adjust quickly, so this is a perfect time to move guys around. So I don't care where they put me. I'm going to play hard every down."
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