ontinuing with our offseason position reviews this edition looks at the offensive center position. The Panthers will enter training camp in a familiar position at center. Ryan Kalil emerged as one of the best centers in the league in 2009 and was rewarded with a Pro Bowl selection. He will anchor the line for many years to come...hopefully. He is entering his first contract year, meaning usually he would be negotiating a new deal. But...the whole lockout thing throws things up in the air...we've discussed it plenty here but it really goes back to January when Darin Gantt made his prediction of no new signings. But I digress...
Behind Kalil the Panthers will again give a look to some center prospects with perceived upside. A player can increase his chances dramatically if he can play multiple positions. Vying for one of the estimated four back-up offensive line positions the Panthers have some versatile young players. So let's take it from the top of the depth chart.
Ryan Kalil - 100%Starter at Center
In the 2007 draft the Panthers traded back from #14 with the Jets and selected Jon Beason at #25. With the added 2nd round pick the Panthers took the ultimate value pick in center Ryan Kalil, a guy the Panthers had a 1st round grade on. The Panthers already had FA signee Justin Hartwig at center and there appeared to be no need for a center at #59. Yet after his 3rd season Kalil has rewarded the Panthers with solid play and leadership.
The NFL Player Ranking site Pro Football Focus has Kalil ranked as the 4th best center in the league. He is most proficient as a run blocker (good thing!) but still is a solid fourth in all categories but penalties. Factor in his ability to stay relatively healthy and we have a great pick. So the next time you wonder if the Panthers should have kept that #14 pick in 2007 and taken CB Darrelle Revis remember we got two Pro Bowl players for one!
Steve Justice - 0% Chance to start; 25% Chance to make the roster (no PS eligibility)
Justice is a former 6th round pick by the Colts in 2008 that was a final cut down casuality the following season. Justice played in 8 games as a rookie with one start (at RG) in 2008. He also has experience at LG meaning Justice brings the ability to play three interior positions. The Panthers signed him to the roster at the end of the season. In college Justice was the runner up for the Rimington Trophy, given to the nation's top center. Here's what his former college coach had to say about him:
"Steve is as good an offensive lineman as we have ever had," said Wake Forest head coach Jim Grobe. "He has exceptional skills, is a team leader and an outstanding young man. He has a bright future in football and he is one player that we will truly miss next year."
No chance Steve Justice earns a spot on the 53 man roster. DeVan was very good today and of course Jamey Richard and Mike Pollak could play center if necessary. Justice was terrible last year and was a big time miss by Polian.
CJ Davis - 0% Chance to start at center; 25% chance to make the roster; 50% chance to make PS
Davis was pegged as a center coming out of college but is now officially listed OG on the Panthers roster so he was covered during the review of the Offensive Guard position. Davis obviously brings versatility but his injury during training camp last season really set him back. He came out of college as a good prospect who wasn't the most athletic guy but he was strong. If Davis doesn't make the roster he's an even pick to land on the practice squad.
The Panthers also have OG Mackenzy Bernadeau as an option at center. Though its not his natural position he filled in adequately in the preseason. MacBern could make the roster yet there still be room for a guy like Justice or Davis if they can back-up all three middle positions.