SPARTANBURG — Byron Bell doesn’t have a specific goal for this year’s training camp.
Certainly there are the platitudes of getting better every day, improving run blocking and pass protection. But this year is different for the third-year right tackle.
In his first Panthers training camp, Bell was just trying to make the team. Last year he was trying to cut down on penalties.
“This year I want to take my game to the next level, whatever that may be,” Bell said Sunday. “This year I’m trying to tighten up on my game, especially in the pass protection and the run game. Being more dominant up front and blocking guys down on the edge.”
Bell was called for 14 penalties during his rookie season after the Panthers picked him up as an undrafted free agent, but he trimmed that number to five last season as the full-time starter at right tackle.
And he was able to do it despite the revolving door beside him at right guard. Geoff Hangartner, Jeff Byers and Garry Williams saw time at right guard after injuries to Pro Bowl center Ryan Kalil and Hangartner forced some shakeups.
Kalil went down during Week 5 against Dallas with a broken foot and did not play the rest of the season. Kalil said his rehabilitation is on track, and he has participated fully in camp.
“Having a healthy Ryan Kalil is key, it’s big time for us,” Bell said. “He’s one of the top leaders on the offensive line, of course, along with Jordan Gross and Geoff Hangartner. Even with the guys on the back end like Garry Williams and Bruce Campbell and those guys, everybody, we all have to start a mentality in the room.”
Depth could be an issue for the right side, though. Fourth-round pick Edmund Kugbila figured to be Hangartner’s understudy at right guard, but his knee and hamstring have prevented him from doing much the first week.
Nevertheless, Bell’s starting spot is safe, and he hopes offensive coordinator Mike Shula’s re-emphasis on the running game means more calls to his side of the line.
“I ran the ball a lot in high school and not so much my last two years in college,” Bell said. “I’m getting back to running the football and getting back to the basics and fundamentals and fitting up on guys and driving them off the ball. I’m excited, we got some great backs and I’m excited to open up some holes for those guys.”
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