The Panthers have never truly been able to stay healthy at offensive guard. By nature, the position itself makes it easy to get serious injuries, as you are grinding it out in the trenches, buying time for your quarterback or making holes for your running backs. Last year, the Panthers had a major rotational issue at offensive guard. Rookie Edmund Kugbila would go down before the season even started, making him one of GM Dave Gettleman's least successful picks so far in his tenure. The loss of then OG Garry Williams in the first game of the 2013 season forced us to scramble, picking up veterans and previous Panthers Geoff Hangartner and Travelle Wharton. Amini Silatolu, arguably the best OG on the roster and one the team had hopes would take some steps forward last season, would suffer a torn ACL against Arizona and would be lost for the rest of the year. Free agent pickup Chris Scott would play well in relief for Silatolu in 10 games, however he would be injured midway through the season and wouldn't return until the playoffs began. If it weren't for the efforts of Hangartner and Wharton, our season might have been lost due to our inability to field a offensive line with any interior support. Despite their valiant efforts, the Panthers moved on from the aging duo, opting to instead look for answers on the roster and through the draft.
Needless to say, it was a rough go for the offensive line, especially at the guard position for the Panthers. It would appear however, to be the main strength of the line this season, apart from Ryan Kalil at center. The team added 3rd round pick Trai Turner, a prospect many said would have likely gone in the late first or second round next year had he stayed in college, to the roster. Silatolu has been progressing nicely post-injury, and Scott has done well in mini-camp so far. Let's take a bit of a more in depth look at the team's interior linemen.
The 3rd year man out of Midwestern State is perhaps the Panthers best OG as of now. He is, however, still trying to get back into the swing of things after a torn ACL about eight months ago. HC Ron Rivera has stated that Silatolu has looked "rusty" in mini-camp thus far, which is to be expected after such a long layoff from playing time. He is still the best option the Panthers currently have at left guard and had a good start to the season prior to his injury. The question will be can he stay healthy through a full season? He only missed one game in 2012, but his ACL injury put him on injured reserve just three games into 2013. There is no question Silatolu is a nasty, road grinding guard when he is out there, and with the Panthers giant question mark at LT, we will need him to be healthy and ready to play.
Chance of starting: 95% *(if healthy), Chance of making the roster: 100%
After doing my piece on rookie guard Trai Turner after the draft, I was able to see how much of a mauler this man is. The 6-3, 320 lb. OG out of LSU will be a welcome addition to the right side of the Panthers offensive line. While Silatolu is the best option the Panthers have at guard right now, the belief is that it will not take Turner long to take that distinction over. He fits the Panthers power running scheme offensive coordinator Mike Shula wishes to utilize more this year perfectly, and he has the ability to move defenders out of the way and get to the second level when needed. I believe he will be able to beat out veteran Chris Scott for the RG position. It is possible he will need another year before fully coming into his own at the NFL level, however I believe he has the ability to succeed right now.
Chance of starting: 65%, Chance of making the roster: 100%
Scott isn't an amazing guard, but he gets the job done well enough when you need him to, which is not a bad thing at all. After making his first start ever in place of the injured Amini Silatolu versus the Seattle Seahwaks in Week 1 last year, he would be moved over to RG in place of the injured Gary Williams for the next seven games. A knee injury against Atlanta however would force him out for the rest of the regular season, where he would finally return in the divisional game against the San Fransisco 49ers. Scott was a surprise for the Panthers, as being able to step in for two different players at two different positions is not an easy thing to do. Again, his game may not blow anyone away, but he is a great option to have in case things go south. Like I said above, I don't think he will win the job over the rookie Turner, but I do believe he will be the next man up in any scenario. His versatility alone almost guarantees him a spot somewhere on the roster.
Chance of starting: 35%, Chance of making the roster: 90%
Here is where the fun and mystery starts for the Panthers. The 2013 4th round pick out of Valdosta State has yet to make an impact of any kind on the field. Chosen for his raw athelitic ability and build, Kugbila has battled a left knee injury for nearly a year now. Time could well be running out on his chance to have a shot at a spot on the roster, much less a starting job. When asked if the drafting of Trai Turner had anything to do with the lack of progress with Kugbila, Dave Gettleman said he would be a liar if the selection didn't have anything to do with the 2nd year lineman's injury problems. It would be great to see if Kugbila can make it onto the field, just so we can finally see what he can do. If he can't, he runs the risk of becoming Duke Robinson 2.0: lot of potential, but various issues keep him off the field and eventually off the roster.
Chance of starting: 3%, Chance of making the roster: 50%
I know, I know, Williams is listed as a RT on paper. He was however the starting RG last year before going down to an injury. I believe the team will keep him mainly in the mix at RT, but he can play inside as well, which merits a mention in this positional review. He can be a quality emergency backup for any scenario.
Chance of starting (at RG) 10%, Chance of making the roster 85%
Singed as an undrafted FA, Norwell represents an interesting potential depth player. The 6-6, 310 lb. guard out of Ohio State had 39 starts for the Buckeyes in his four years with the team. He was also named to the All-Big Ten Conference team three times overall. Norwell mainly played at LG and helped the Buckeyes to the 5th ranked rushing attack in the country last year. While it is a possibility he is nothing more than a camp body, I do think he has enough potential to possibly push Kugbila for a roster spot and be a backup for Silatolu. At worst, he should be a solid practice squad guy.
Chance of starting: 0%, Chance of making the roster: 30%, Chance of making the practice squad: 75%
This poor fellow I do believe is nothing more than a camp body. His first year in the league last season consisted of being an undrafted free agent, bouncing around various teams before finally sticking to the Chicago Bears' practice squad. At best he makes this team's practice squad. Other than that, there isn't much to see here.
Chance of starting: 0%, Chance of making the roster: 0%, Chance of making the practice squad: 35%