Ever since the start of the offseason, I have been hearing many different shouts for change on our offensive line. Anything from cutting Jeff Otah to using our 9th overall pick on a Guard, its been very perplexing to me. This piece today is strictly my own opinion on where our offensive line lies. My opinion is simple, we will be FINE if we don't change anything.
My main point behind this is our crazy amounts of injuries to our offensive line. We had some pretty tremendous depth from the 2009 and 2010 seasons, where a great many players got to step up and start. Players like Garry Williams, Geoff Schwartz, and Byron Bell have all seen some great playing time due to unfortunate injuries.
More on the Carolina Offensive line, after the jump...
Injuries plagued the offensive line for us in 2011. We had placed 3 players from our offensive line on the injured reserve before the season even started, one of whom (Geoff Schwartz) slated to be the starter. Garry Williams was our main backup in case either Otah or Gross were to get hurt, but he broke his leg in the preseason. And Zack Williams was a late round draft pick who was able to play multiple positions on the offensive line. Now, granted we were able to reclaim a starter at Right Guard in Geoff Hangartner, but when Jeff Otah's season was plagued with injury, undrafted free agent Byron Bell was forced to fill in. Byron Bell was certainly impressive when he filled in, but unfortunately his inexperience showed many a time.
What happened to our offensive line was just downright unfortunate. Not many teams see injuries to multiple players of the same position. Garry Williams, Jeff Otah, and Geoff Schwartz all had filled in before as a Right Tackle, yet all of them were lost for the season. Now a team cannot always plan for injuries, however we have the depth on our roster if we aren't spread thin by injury.
What We Have
Gary Williams is a player with experience at both the Right and Left Tackle spots, filling in when needed in 2009 and 2010 for injuries to Jordan Gross and Jeff Otah. In 2010, he filled in for Jeff Otah and helped us to 100 yard rushing performances in 8 of out last 10 games (And that was with Mike Goodson as our starter for some!). In addition, he started next to Geoff Schwartz, who moved to Right Guard with the injury to Otah. Schwartz's performance at Right Guard earned him a starting spot in 2011, in which he suffered an injury before he could start his first game of the season. We have also seen Travelle Wharton shift to Left Tackle for Jordan Gross, as well as Mackenzy Bernadeau shuffling around on the offensive line whenever injuries occurred.
Unfortunately, injuries can make or break a team. We got the short end of the stick this past season, but going forward, a full offseason should reduce some of the injuries. We will see the B-Level free agent pick ups, and we will see a few of the guys previously mentioned gone by the start of the next season. But the point of this article is this: In a perfect world, we don't lose any major starters to injury. However, most likely, we will lose
Jeff Otah one major player to injury at some point. Having the kind of depth we have, with solid experience is good. Don't forget, many of the guys on our roster were here for the history making rushing performance in 2009.
Is there room for improvement? Absolutely. Would a rookie guard be a good draft pick? No question. But, if the organization decides to see what we have in our players, after a full offseason, we will be fine. We have, after this season, developed yet another Undrafted Rookie, Garry Williams-esque player in Byron Bell. He could be a future starter, however Jeff Otah is still a better player provided he can stay off the injury report. We now have 4 players who are versatile, experienced, and solid backups in Geoff Hangartner/Geoff Schwartz (its tough to decide who will start at this point in time), Garry Williams, MacBern, and Byron Bell. We also have yet to see what guys like Zack Williams have in them. All I'm saying, fellow Panthers fans, is have faith. All is not lost, and we will be fine provided we don't have another injury epidemic like this past season.