Carolina Panthers

One big question hangs over Carolina Panthers offensive line as training camp nears

Carolina Panthers offensive linemen Tyler Larsen (left) and Taylor Moton (center) are among the group competing to start at left guard alongside offensive tackle Matt Kalil (right).
Carolina Panthers offensive linemen Tyler Larsen (left) and Taylor Moton (center) are among the group competing to start at left guard alongside offensive tackle Matt Kalil (right). dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com

Responsibility for one of the biggest tasks for the Carolina Panthers in training camp next week will fall on some of the team’s biggest players.

The competition for the vacant left guard position is one of the most crucial facing the team.

After All-Pro talent Andrew Norwell signed with the Jaguars in free agency this spring, coach Ron Rivera made it clear that the handful of players vying to be Norwell’s replacement are going to have to duke it out in camp to earn the nod.

Contenders include second-year guard/tackle Taylor Moton, former backup guard/tackle Amini Silatolu, backup center/guard Tyler Larsen and former Minnesota guard/tackle Jeremiah Sirles.

Also entering the thunder dome are three promising rookie linemen: Brendan Mahon, Taylor Hearn and Kyle Bosch were undrafted free agent signees who are hoping to show their potential.

Elsewhere along the line, Carolina returns a healthy veteran center in Ryan Kalil (who has said 2018 will be his final season), All-Pro right guard Trai Turner, right tackle Daryl Williams (who is in a contract year) and left tackle Matt Kalil.

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All-Pro right guard Trai Turner (70) is among the returning starters on the Carolina Panthers offensive line. Above, Turner celebrates a Christian McCaffrey touchdown against the Miami Dolphins. Jeff Siner jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

Breakout candidate

Moton has the size and the smarts to be a really solid offensive lineman. And the Panthers have a decision to make: Try him at guard, or keep stashing him as an extra tackle who can possibly take over for Williams next fall, if the latter enters free agency.

Either way, this summer and fall is the time when Moton can really prove his long-term value.

Carolina Panthers center Ryan Kalil drove his brother, Panthers tackle Matt Kalil, to Wofford College in Spartanburg, SC, for the 2017 training camp. But he had to fire him as disc jockey.

To be decided in camp

Rivera has been bullish about Silatolu’s potential to be the team’s new starting left guard, and he certainly has the most experience in Carolina’s system compared to the other available contenders. However, despite his experience he’s been inconsistent, which is a factor that will keep this competition tight.

Underdog to watch

Sirles’ arrival in Charlotte didn’t have much fanfare, but his experience is notable and will be a valuable tool for the Panthers. He started 14 games at left guard for the Vikings over the past two seasons, and can also play tackle.

Also keep an eye on...

Larsen has been consistent for the Panthers as a backup center for two seasons as Ryan Kalil battled a nasty neck and shoulder injury.

But he’s also a guard, and has been lauded as such by Rivera a few times in the spring. Expect him to at least get a shot at proving his chops in the battle for the starting left guard position.

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Veteran Carolina Panthers center Ryan Kalil (67) has said that 2018 will be his final season in the NFL. David T. Foster III dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com

Three bold predictions

  • Silatolu starts the season at left guard, but he doesn’t finish it there.

  • Williams, who earned second-team All-Pro honors last year, has another solid season and enters the free-agent market.

  • A healthy Ryan Kalil and the addition of C.J. Anderson at running back revitalizes a Panthers rushing attack that was underwhelming in 2017.
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