Watching the Carolina Panthers with Marty Hurney at GM there has always been one constant- the offensive line. While the quarterback position was in flux, and running backs were rotated in and out, there was always the underlying reliability of the line. For the first time in a long time we enter the 2012 season with serious questions about the players charged with protecting Cam Newton.
Jordan Gross and Ryan Kalil are always the mainstays, but from here the water gets far murkier. The off-season decision to part ways with Travelle Wharton and Geoff Schwartz leaves the Panthers with a unit relying on youth, and crossing fingers that the injury bug wont bite.
Underpinning this move is the more overall movement inside the organization that shifts the focus away from guys like Wharton and Schwartz (the 'jack of all trades' types) and focuses more on specialists. Players who have clear deficiencies in their games, but who also have huge ability in one key area. Ultimately this will give the team a far higher level of talent overall. It's far more valuable to have a team populated by players who are 'As' in one or two areas, rather than 'Bs' across the board. This is part and parcel of the process to move from a middling team, to a championship one,
More after the jump
One of the best free agent moves the Panthers made last year was bringing Geoff Hangartner back into the fold. While he's not an elite talent, he's an extremely good pass blocking guard, even if he's not a road grader in the passing game. Conventional wisdom would be to put Hangartner at LG where his pass blocking abilities could be best utilized, but with the lack of pass blocking talent the Panthers have at RT it's imperative they use his skills over at the RG spot.
The backup spot at RG will be fought for between last year's UDFA Bryant Browning along with Roger Allen who was signed earlier this year. Over at the left guard spot we have a lot more questions. Rookie Amini Silatolu will almost certainly be the starter out of the gate at the LG spot- where his ability as a pulling guard will pay dividends immediately. As it stands he's not a very reliable pass blocker, but sandwiched between Gross and Kalil this deficiency will be mitigated. We've talked ad nauseum about Silatolu's 'mean streak', but I have the feeling fans will come to love him on Sundays.
Behind Silatolu will be a competition between FA signing Mike Pollak, and UDFA signing Will Blackwell. Both Pollak and Blackwell are decent run blockers, but far better in the passing game. This could be one of the tightest battles in all of training camp, but I think Pollak may make the cut, while Blackwell is stashed on the practice squad.
Projected Depth Chart at Guard
LG: Amini Silatolu/ Mike Pollak
RG: Geoff Hangartner/ Bryant BrowningThere is some youth and uncertainty, but a lot of talent in this group also. It make take a few games for Silatolu to hit his stride, but long term I think this is the start of a fantastic unit, even if the Panthers will need to look for a long term replacement for Hangartner in the 2013 draft.