It is no secret that the Panthers' offensive line performed terribly last season. Perhaps the injury issues that arose from the center position are mostly to blame. One look at some advanced metrics from our friends over at Football Outsiders, and I realized just how bad the 2012 offensive line performed, especially when it came to running up the middle. The Panthers finished the season 29th overall on yards per carry up the middle (3.57 ypa), which is where 58% of their rush attempts came from. The pass protection wasn't much better either. Cam was sacked on 7.6 percent of all pass play calls, which put us in 21st place for the season.
Can all of the blame be laid at the feet of the center position? Of course not. The offensive line is made up of five individuals who are all challenged to win their own particular battles. But these battles are seldom won if they aren't on the same page, and this is where the true value of a center is found.
It is necessary for a center to correctly identify defensive schemes in order to properly call the corresponding protections and blocking alignments. The ability to perform these tasks is imperative for any front five that wants to develop into a single cohesive unit. Ultimately, the familiarity and stability associated with most dominant offensive lines is nearly unattainable when injuries enter the equation, and naturally, the Panthers fell prey to this ubiquitous enemy once again.
Do you think our All-Pro center would have made his Super Bowl prediction had he known his season would be over only five games in? I think we all know the answer to that question. Thankfully, 2012 is over and Kalil's Lisfranc injury should be fully healed by the time the 2013 season begins. As long as there are no setbacks, he will return to the starting lineup where he belongs. We can only hope this is the case because the Panthers' offense won't reach its full potential without him.
Probability to start at center: 100%
Mr. Jack of Two Trades began the season at right guard, but was called into center duty the moment Kalil went down. Hangartner did the best he could(average at best) for eight games before succumbing to a foot injury of his own. I expect Piggy to move back to right guard where he will battle newcomer Edmund Kugbila for starting rights. Even though he isn't anywhere near elite, I expect the Panthers to keep him around for this coming season for several reasons. He comes fairly cheap, is relatively young at 31, and there just isn't anybody better behind him.
Note: Although Hangartner is officially listed as a guard, I chose to include him in the Center preview because he may very well be the first option again should Kalil find himself injured at any point in 2013.
Probability to start at center: 0%
Probability to make the roster: 80%
Following Piggy's foot injury, Byers finished the season by starting the final three games. Like Hangartner, Byers is versatile enough to play both center and right guard. Although Byers isn't Pro Bowl material, he has done well to stay in the league as long as he has after going undrafted in 2010.
Maybe the highlight of his career came in the final game of 2012 when he helped the Panthers' offense amass the second most yards in team history. Of course, this seemingly impressive feat came against the lowly Saints defense, which was historically egregious. It should also be noted that four of the Panthers' five offensive lineman in that particular game went undrafted. Frankly, we didn't have any business winning that game based on that fact alone. However, neither the coaching staff nor the five guys that manned that offensive line should go completely unrecognized, regardless of the opponents defensive deficiencies.
Probability to start at center: 0%
Probability to make the roster: 50%
Folkerts signed with the Buccaneers as a UDFA in 2012 and was cut just before the season began. The Panthers signed him less than two weeks ago on May 13th. Otherwise we know nothing about this guy and hence he appears to be nothing more than a camp body right now.
Probability to start at center: -100%
Probability to make the roster: 1%