Carolina Panthers

Offensive line just as important for Broncos

CHARLOTTE -- As much as the Carolina Panthers were infatuated with running back Jonathan Stewart prior to this year's draft, they knew they needed to fix their offensive line.

So did the Denver Broncos.

The difference in philosophies between today's opponents are clear in the blockers they took in the spring.

Denver used the 12th overall pick on Ryan Clady, the quick-footed, pass-protecting left tackle from Boise State. That cleared the way for the Panthers to take Stewart, then make their move for the more powerful drive-blocking Jeff Otah with the 19th pick.

"You look at Otah, and I didn't really study him as much because he's a little bit bigger tackle, and in our zone blocking scheme, we thought he would probably go to a team like Carolina that's more power oriented," Denver coach Mike Shanahan said. "But we thought he was still a very good tackle and obviously went in the first round. But we had our eye on more of a zone blocking tackle, maybe a little bit smaller than Otah, and that's the reason we went with Clady."

The Broncos are delighted with the results, since the line has yielded just eight sacks this year. Clady has been a big part of that.

Had Stewart been off the board, there's a strong chance the Panthers would have simply used the 13th pick on Otah, then taken a running back later. But they thought Stewart was a top-five talent, too good to pass. So upon taking Stewart, they immediately started working the phones, trying to trade their second-rounder and next year's first to get back into the first round.

Their first big sigh of relief came when Detroit used the 17th pick on Boston College tackle Gosder Cherilus, a guy they liked but didn't think had as much potential to improve as Otah. Baltimore did a deal to get to 18 to take quarterback Joe Flacco, and then the Panthers sweetened their offer to Philadelphia with a 2008 fourth-rounder, and they were able to get their guy.

When you look at similar deals made by other teams, the fourth was the extra pick, the only thing that made it border on overpayment for the right to take Otah. But because of how they're running, the Panthers are glad they got their guy when they did.

"Ecstatic. Totally ecstatic," Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme said of the trade. "You can say we don't have a first-round pick in '09. That's right, we have it in '08. and he's ahead of the '09 first-round pick. It was a guy they targeted and wanted. To me, that is smart drafting. If that is what you want, you go get him. Hopefully it worked out, and so far it has.

"I couldn't wait to see him on the field. He's a large man. Size is one thing, but does it translate? And you saw early on that, yeah, it does."