ORLANDO — Carolina Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman often refers to an expression he learned as a Buffalo Bills scout that “the answer is often on your roster.”
It looks like the Panthers view Byron Bell as the answer at left tackle.
Bell has started 41 games at right tackle during his first three seasons with Carolina, demonstrating solid run-blocking skills but often struggling to contain speed pass-rushers.
But with longtime left tackle Jordan Gross retiring and the top free-agent tackles having received more money than the Panthers were willing to pay, Bell likely will get the first crack at replacing Gross as Cam Newton’s blindside protector.
“Byron’s a natural left tackle. He played it all through college. He’s a natural left-hander,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said Wednesday during the final day of the league meetings.
“So I think that might be something that’s to his benefit. It might be to our benefit, as well,” Rivera said of Bell switching to the left side. “When you look at the way he does things, his physicality, his athleticism for 330 pounds, that’s pretty good. Being where we are in terms of potential on offense, I don’t think it’s a bad move if he ends up being our left tackle.”
Rivera did not rule out taking a tackle in the May 8-10 draft, which features a deep group of tackles. But with the Panthers picking 28th overall, they might be hard pressed to find a long-term solution at left tackle.
Rivera also discussed what the rest of the line – anchored by Pro Bowl center Ryan Kalil – would look like if the season started today. He mentioned Nate Chandler, the former defensive tackle who started at right guard last season, and Garry Williams as contenders at right tackle.
Amini Silatolu, who missed most of 2013 following knee surgery, is expected to reclaim his spot at left guard, while Chris Scott and Chandler could compete at right guard.
Secondary concerns: While the Panthers’ personnel losses at receiver have been well documented, their secondary also took a big hit when starting cornerback Captain Munnerlyn and free safety Mike Mitchell left in free agency.
Antoine Cason, who played in San Diego when Rivera was the Chargers’ defensive coordinator, is expected to fill one of the corner spots, likely opposite second-year player Melvin White. Former New Orleans safety Roman Harper was signed with the expectation he will start at strong safety.
Charles Godfrey’s injury status has clouded the situation at free safety, to the point that Rivera forgot to mention him Wednesday when discussing the possible starters. Godfrey is returning from Achilles surgery and has a $7.1 million cap figure.
“I haven’t seen him yet. I know he started running. We’ll wait and see,” said Rivera, adding Godfrey also could be a candidate to play nickel corner.
New rules: Owners approved five rules changes for 2014, including one that allows the referee to consult with the officiating supervisors in New York during replay reviews. Rivera is in favor of the new replay process.
“The bottom line is we want to get it right,” he said “The more people that look at plays that are being reviewed, the better chance of getting it right.”
Owners also agreed to:
• Extend the uprights five feet to make it easier for officials to judge high kicks;
• Prohibit blockers from rolling up on the side of a defender’s leg;
• Make the recovery of a loose ball in the field of play a reviewable play in replay reviews;
• Enforce defensive penalties behind the line of scrimmage from the previous spot, instead of the end of the run or the spot of the foul.
A proposal by New England to move extra points to the 25-yard line was tabled. The league will experiment with a longer point-after by moving it to the 20 during the first two weeks of the preseason.
R-E-S-P-E-C-T: Sportsmanship was discussed at length this week after the number of taunting penalties jumped from nine in 2010 to 34 last season. St. Louis coach Jeff Fisher, a member of the league’s competition committee, said officials will be more diligent in enforcing the rulebook.
“We are going to clean the game up on the field between the players. The in-your-face taunting, those types of things,” Fisher said. “The language, it’s all in the book, it’s all under unsportsmanlike conduct. There is no change in the rule, we are going to enforce the current rule.”
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