The health of Jeff Otah is a key to a dominant Panther offensive line in 2012.
Continuing our preview of the Panthers roster by position this post looks at offensive tackle. The Panthers have a nice blend of youth and experience at tackle to choose from but the depth chart is hardly settled beyond the left tackle spot. In fact, as ti turns out we have more of a battle for the starting spot at RT than many might think. The Panthers have typically carry five tackles on their roster opening day some that means two of the current 7 tackles on the roster will be cut. So let's lay out the odds of who starts and who makes the roster.
Jordan Gross (31) 10th Year 6'4" 305 Lbs - 100% Starter at Left Tackle
Since being drafted 8th overall in 2003 Gross will probably go down as the best left tackle in franchise history whenever he retires. He has anchored the left side of the line for nine seasons and will do so again in 2012. The only question at left tackle is who will back him up.
Jeff Otah (25) 5th Year 6'6" 330 Lbs - Competing to Start at Right Tackle
The health of Jeff Otah is one of the biggest questions of the 2012 offseason. Otah has only played in 4 games the past two seasons due to injury so getting him back healthy is a huge question. When healthy Otah was a dominant RT who could drive NFL defensive tackles down the field. But Head Coach Ron Rivera has said Otahwill not have RT position handed to him:
"Nobody's getting anything there. Byron Bell did a hell of a job for us last year," Rivera said. "We know what Jeff's capable of. But the problem with Jeff is we haven't really seen him in two years. It's up to Jeff. If Jeff wants to come back and be a huge part of it, it's on him. He's got to do the things we ask him to do. He's got to do them the right way."
Rivera doesn't mince his words in his expectations for Otah. The good news is that the latest reports are that Otah is 100% healthy and ready to compete in 2012. Panthers fans should rejoice if that is true. Given Otah is in a contract year too means a solid season would set him up for a nice payday at the end of the season. I'm hopefully all the above will motivate Otah and he will dominate once again.
Analysis: Jeff Otah has a 100% chance of making the roster and an 80% chance to be the starter at RT.
Byron Bell (23) 2nd Year 6'5" 339 Lbs - Competing to Start at Right Tackle
Byron Bell went from the long odds of simply making the Panthers roster as an UDFA to twelve game starter after every tackle ahead of him went down to injury. In theory that makes him the incumbent with a leg up on his competition including Jeff Otah. In theory that is. Bell will have to get quicker in pass protection if he is to nail down the starting job.
Analysis: Byron Bell has a 100% chance of making the roster and a 20% chance to be the starter at RT
Garry Williams (25) 5th Year 6'3" 296 Lbs - Competing for a Back-up Spot at both tackle spots
After starting at RT for 11 games in 2010 after Jeff Otah went down to injury Williams broke his ankle int he final preseason game of 2011 and missed the entire season. That was really bad timing and opened the door for Byron Bell to step up. Williams can play either tackle spot and given the log jam at RT he has to be pegged to back up Jordan Gross on the left side. It would appear his competition is newly signed Bruce Campbell.
Analysis: Garry Williams has a 80% chance of making the roster and a 5% chance of starting
Bruce Campbell (23) 5th Year 6'6" 315 Lbs - Competing for a Back-up Spot
The Panthers traded RB Mike Goodson to the Raiders this offseason for the athletic tackle that lit up the 2010 Scouting Combine but never put it all together for the Raiders ont he field. Though the Raiders had moved him to OG the Panthers have said they plan to move him back to tackle. That might be a short lived experiment as the Panthers seem to have more depth at tackle than OG. Given what the Panthers gave up to obtain Campbell I have to think he has a good shot to stick at least for one season though he is most likely a back-up in 2012. The only question is which tackle spot is he slated for? My current thinking is LT given the solid depth on the other side and the fact Campbell is one of the few tackles with the athletic ability to play the left side.
Analysis: Bruce Campbell has a 90% chance of making the roster and a 5% chance of starting
Lee Ziemba (23) 2nd Year 6'6" 318 Lbs - Competing to back-up LT
Ziemba saw little action in 2011 playing in 6 games on special teams only. He is a former 7th round pick who probably benefited from having played with Cam Newton giving him more exposure to the Panthers. Though he lined up at RT a good bit in camp last year he can play either side. He may not be athletic enough to play LT and might not be good enough in run blocking to play the rigfht side. Ziemba is a bubble player who will have to work hard to beat out the guys listed above.
Analysis: Lee Ziemba has a 20% chance of making the roster and a 0% chance of starting.
Matt Reynolds (25) Rookie 6'4" 305 Lbs - Competing for roster spot in any capacity
Reynolds is a 25 yr old UDFA from BYU who must have went on the typical 2 yr Morman mission to be that age. He started at LT for three seasons and is one of four brothers to play football for BYU. Here's a quick scouting report on his strengths:
Reynolds shows power when run-blocking and is able to snap off the line of scrimmage into his man quickly and leg drive sufficiently to keep his man occupied. He has decent athletic ability but is able to get up field nicely and position on linebackers, which encourages a switch inside even more.
His chances of making the roster would improve with a switch inside to OG but I'm doubting that is what the Panthers intend to do.
Analysis: 5% of making the Panthers roster