The Panthers accomplished their goal to rebuild the offensive line in the 2022 offseason. They drafted a franchise left tackle, and found two starting interior linemen in free agency (even if it took them a little too long to figure out that Bradley Bozeman is the starter at center). Unlike the wide receiver position I previously broke down, there was very little turnover on the offensive line as a whole. However, the Panthers did make some moves to build depth and hopefully keep some consistency in the event somebody gets injured. And that is paramount to keeping their shiny new (and tiny) quarterback healthy. The offensive line is almost as important as the investment in getting a franchise quarterback. Let’s break it down.
LT: Ikem Eckwonu
LG: Brady Christensen
C: Bradley Bozeman
RG: Austin Corbett/Chandler Zavala
RT: Taylor Moton
First thing’s first; the right guard spot. Austin Corbett likely won’t be ready to start the 2023 season after tearing his ACL in the Panthers final game of the 2022 season on January 8th. Hopefully he can, but that would be somewhat miraculous. Typically a torn ACL is season ending even if it happens early in an offseason. So, what do the Panthers do to start the season? Well, a popular idea is to put rookie 4th round pick and fellow NC State alumni Chandler Zavala next to his old running mate Ikem Eckwonu at left guard. And honestly, it isn’t the worst idea. However, the Panthers had Brady Christensen start and STAY at left guard for the entire 2022 season next to Icky. I believe the best solution is not to mess with the existing pieces that really took off down the stretch in 2022.
Bradley Bozeman took over as the starting center in Carolina’s first game against Tampa Bay, and from there the starting group of Icky, Christensen, Bozeman, Corbett, and Moton went on a tear running the football, a push that almost got the team into the playoffs. In my opinion, don’t blow up the line by moving Christensen to a place like right guard or left tackle, causing two positions to essentially have new starters to open the season. Have Zavala take reps at right and left guard, and start whoever wins the temp job between him and the other backups. More on that now...
G Chandler Zavala, OT Cam Erving, G Justin McCray, G Cade Mays
In the event Austin Corbett starts the season on PUP list or potentially IR (he’d have to make the initial 53 man roster to not land on season ending IR), I could see C/G Sam Tecklenburg or G Michael Jordan also making the 53 man roster...
You know I’m right.
Beyond the starters, the Panthers did what I would call a decent job of getting depth behind them. Justin McCray was signed early in free agency, and he has valuable experience with OL coach James Campen. I wouldn’t be shocked if he ends up being the starter at RG to start the season if Zavala isn’t ready. They also went out and re-signed Cam Erving as their backup swing tackle. While Erving wasn’t a popular signing from the Matt Rhule era due to his contract, he was signed at that time to be a starter. That isn’t the case this time around, as his contract now is 1 year for $1.16 million per Over the Cap. That’s a very good number for a guy who proved to be valuable depth and occasionally stepped in as an additional lineman in 2022.
Rounding out the rest, Cade Mays falls into the same category as Cam Erving. That last spot for Michael Jordan is definitely not guaranteed, as the Panthers do have a few UDFAs they brought in at guard and tackle. But, I can’t give any of them the spot over a former 3rd round pick until I see some reps at training camp.
Outside looking in
OT: Larnel Coleman, Ricky Lee (UDFA), BJ Wilson (UDFA)
G: Michael Jordan, Sam Tecklenburg, Deonte Brown, Nash Jensen (UDFA)
OL: J.D. DiRenzo (UDFA)
As I stated above, there’s certainly a spot open for one of these guys to make the roster, but the chances aren’t high. Deonte Brown is a former 6th round draft pick from the last coaching staff, however he’s never proven to be much more than bottom of the depth chart at best. The UDFAs of this group should be fighting for practice squad spots during the preseason.
That’s my projection and I’m sticking to it. What are your thoughts, Panthers fans?