This next installation of our Panthers offseason position reviews covers the offensive tackle position. The Panthers are very well set with veteran starters Jordan Gross and Jeff Otah. Both will anchor the line for years to come. The real question with this position is who will back them up. On the right side 3rd year player Geoff Schwartz filled in nicely last season when Otah went on IR with 3 games remaining. Yet Schwartz was getting a look at RG during the recent OTA's. Would a position move by Schwartz open the door for another tackle?
On the other side Cowboy cast off Rob Pettiti is competing against former UDFA Garry Williams, the rookie I gave a 1% chance of making the roster last season. That kid knows how to beat the odds (or I am just plain wrong yet again). The Panthers must like what they saw in Williams but I'm still thinking they will only keep two back-up tackles when they also have LG Travelle Wharton, who can also play OT. The Panthers value players with the flexibility to play multiple positions. Using last season as a gauge I would expect the Panthers to keep four reserve linemen, three of which that can back-up at least two positions.
Let's start with a brief review of the starters.
Left Tackle - Jordan Gross 6'4" 305 lbs - 100% Starter
Gross is a former first round pick from the 2003 draft that was moved to the left side in 2008 and responded with his first Pro Bowl selection. Gross isn't the biggest, strongest or meanest tackle to play the game but he uses very good technique, quick feet and leverage to keep his match-up at bay. Gross is a better pass blocker than run blocker but he does both better than average. The Panthers rewarded his nice 2008 season with a lucrative long term contract last year that will allow him to protect the QB's blind side for many years to come. Gross is coming off of a broken leg so there is a little concern he might still be affected. Early indications from OTA's show no effect so far so expect a solid season from Gross in 2010. more after the jump...
Right Tackle - Jeff Otah 6'6" 330 - 100% Starter
This might surprise you but Jeff Otah did have a bit of a sophomore slump in 2009 versus his 2008 rookie campaign. The one positive is he did increase the number of snaps played significantly after 2008 saw several games missed due to injury. Conversely he remained healthy for 14 weeks in 2009 before landing on IR. That means he has spent significant time inured in both of his NFL seasons. We have to hope Otah avoids the trifecta in 2010.
By every other stat used to rate offensive tackles on Pro Football Focus he took a step back in 2009. He dropped from #21 to #40 overall and deteriorated in every category but sacks allowed (5 - good thing). His strength remains his run blocking but he still needs to work on avoiding penalties and his pass blocking.
Unlike last year we have a pretty good idea of who will back up RT. That will be Geoff Schwartz since I don't think the Panthers will put him at RG. I think he is simply working there to get experience as a potential back-up at RG. My thought is the Panthers are looking for at least one pure tackle and then maybe one G/T combo for two of the four back-up offensive line positions. It's the other side of the line where the prediction gets tricky.
Geoff Schwartz 6'6" 331 - 98% chance of making the roster, 20% chance of starting at RG or RT
Schwartz is a third year player who made the most of his two starts in 2009. So much so he is a lock to make the roster in 2010. Schwartz is a big, strong guy suited for the right side of the line. During the recent OTA's he worked at RG, practice reps that should expand his flexibility to back-up multiple positions. If he gets the call at RT during the season we can now feel confident we got a starter-quality guy stepping in.
Garry Williams 6'3" 300 lbs - 70% chance of making the roster otherwise 90% chance of making practice squad
Williams was practiically the last guy to make the roster in 2009 but make it he did. That's good enough to give him the edge over his competition at LT in my view. He saw action in 7 games in 2009 so that experience will help him this year as well. Williams is a true LT so I think the Panthers would prefer Williams to the first in at LT behind Gross rather than shifting the LG Travelle Wharton outside.
Rob Petitti 6'6" 327 lbs - 30% chance of making the roster
I just don't think there is enough space on the roster for Pettiti unless he should simply bust out in Training Camp. Though Petitti has lots of starting experience in only 5 seasons he doesn't come with glowing reports from his previous stops. He was said to be slow in his footwork and soft overall from his time in Dallas. Obviously the Panthers thought enough of him to sign him to back-up the tackle positions last season after both starters were on IR but I don't see him hanging around past the final cut down.
I think the fact the Panthers didn't add any UDFA tackles says they know they have some good choices to back-up the starters. The starters on the other hand look good on the left side with PB LT Jordan Gross but we are looking for improvement from 3rd year starter at RT Jeff Otah. They have the potential to be one of the best tackle tandems in the NFC if not the NFL.