2013 Carolina Panthers position review: Offensive tackle

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

For years the Panthers OT position was left to 'set and forget', but injuries, cuts and age have made it the team's weakest position.

It wasn't long ago that three of the Panthers offensive line spots were the safest locks on the team. Jordan Gross, Travelle Wharton, and Ryan Kalil represented a triumvirate that would stonewall the left side of the line and protect Jake Delhomme. There may have been injuries on the right side, but Wharton was the ultimate swing man -- able to move to right tackle at a moments notice, and do a serviceable job.

Jordan Gross

Gross, along with Chris Gamble have been the whipping boys for disgruntled fans over recent years. Both were selected in a long-gone era, where the team had a lot of success, but neither garnered high praise for their outstanding work.

Restructuring his deal to be a one-year Band Aid, the left tackle spot is secure. Gross is no longer the player he was five years ago. He was always an average athlete, who lacked elite strength -- but his smarts allowed him to become one of the NFL's premier left tackles. Time marched on, and those athletic deficiencies have become more and more pronounced. He's still able to protect Cam Newton, but it's questionable how well he can continue as NFL pass rushers get bigger, and faster.

If Amini Silatolu can take steps forward in his pass blocking, and offer Gross some help -- then there's a good chance the team will be okay. However, this is a one-year situation, and the team has no answers at the LT spot long term.

100% chance to start at left tackle

Byron Bell

It's a testament to his work ethic that Bell has risen from undrafted free agent, to starting right tackle -- but he may have reached his ceiling. He's an excellent run blocker, but his deficiencies in protecting the edge are clear. His foot speed isn't where it needs to be, and there are times where his concentration lapses.

One would think that Cam Newton would be fine with a front-side rusher, but he's shown an inability to make the right decision in these situations. Von Miller's mammoth day in 2012 showed this. The Panthers need a right tackle who can pass block, and more importantly buy Newton time.

Bell will be the starting right tackle in 2013, unless there's a waiver pickup, or a free agent signing. He's far from perfect, but as it stands he's the best option the Panthers have.

90% change to start at right tackle

Bruce Campbell

This is the wild card of the offensive line grouping. There's an interesting air surrounding Campbell, where the Panthers seem intent on seeing if he can be the left tackle of the future. Despite having the athletic ability to play both sides, the team has kept him backing up Jordan Gross almost exclusively.

Campbell showed flashes in Spartanburg last year, prompting us to wonder if he could win the starting right tackle job. However, the team continued to reduce his snaps on the right, giving him more opportunities with the first team on the left. In this role he did quite well, and was one of the pleasant surprises in camp.

There will be more opportunities for him during the preseason, and at 25-years-old there's still plenty of room for him to grow as a young player. Now it becomes a question of his veteran salary vs. his ability, but in 2013 he'll make the roster out of necessity.

100% chance to make the roster

Garry Williams

Unquestionably the most frustrating player on the offensive line, Williams returns for his sixth season. The reason he's so maddening isn't that he's unable to play, but rather you see flashes followed by complete ineptitude -- seemingly with no rhyme or reason.

He's a Sunday player -- and always looks better in games than he does in practice. At this stage he's better as an offensive tackle than trying to slide him inside to guard, and while it's unlikely he'll push Byron Bell, if he could just turn those flashes into consistency he has a much higher ceiling.

This is another situation where his veteran contract and ability aren't jiving. He could be a late cut if he doesn't turn the corner, especially if the Panthers sign a free agent.

80% chance to make the roster

Nate Chandler

A late addition to this grouping, and a complete unknown. Chandler played tight end in college, and was able to play as a blocking tight end -- but the shift from that to NFL offensive tackle is a huge leap.

He has less-than-ideal size at 6'4, 300-lbs, and hopes will be that he can add to his frame in training camp. Normally I'd put a player's chances at 5% in this situation, but it's clear the coaching staff really like Chandler. There has been a shift towards coachable players with a lot of upside, over those who are almost finished products but can't follow instruction.

There's a good chance they'll stash him on the practice squad again if he fails to make an impact, but his roster spot will only be threatened by a signing.

70% chance to make the roster
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