The first practice of the Carolina Panthers’ rookie minicamp had ended, and most of the players had walked off the practice fields 15 minutes ago.
Finally, there was just one player left, supervised by an assistant coach who had “snatched me up,” as the player put it later, and singled him out for extra work.
The player kept going into a three-point stance, rising up out of it and banging into a blocking sled, over and over.
Thwop! Thwop! The noise echoed off the nearby skyscrapers.
The player was rookie tackle Daryl Williams. The coach was Panthers offensive line coach John Matsko. And the point was that Williams needs to learn all this quickly, because the Panthers’ fourth-round selection in the 2015 draft has a chance to start on Day One.
Williams, out of Oklahoma, looks the part at tackle. At a self-described 6-foot-5 and 329 pounds, he is blot-out-the-sun huge – although then again, so was Jeff Otah.
When I asked Williams to describe his style of play, he said: “I’m physical, I’m nasty, I’m a technician and I’m a road grader.”
He is also a rookie, and he will begin training camp behind veteran Mike Remmers at right tackle. The Panthers loved the way that the unsung Remmers solidified a leaky offensive line late last season.
“We’ve spoken to Mike, and Mike Remmers knows that first day Ron (Rivera) blows the whistle, he’s walking out there as the right tackle starter,” general manager Dave Gettleman said last week a few hours after picking Williams. “But he knows he’s going to have to compete.”
Said Williams of his goals this season: “Just coming in, working hard and getting the respect of my teammates. And I am looking to start – that’s if I can prove myself.”
Gettleman joked right after taking Williams that everyone knows he has to have at least one “hog molly” – a really big lineman – in every draft. Williams certainly is big. He lasted until the fourth round in part because his athleticism is modest by the NFL’s high standards, and he has hardly any experience at left tackle, the more valued position since that player protects a right-handed quarterback’s blind side. (Williams said he believed he could play left tackle in the NFL but is more comfortable on the right side that he played throughout high school and college).
The Panthers had a third-round grade on Williams – Williams said immediately after the draft that he was “devastated” that he didn’t get picked in the first three rounds. Carolina liked him well enough that they traded three picks away to Oakland to move up 22 spots in the fourth round to get him. In a run-first offense such as Carolina’s, Rivera believes Williams can help.
“The thing that I like is he’s physical at the point of attack, he gets his hands on people, tends to lock them up and drives and pushes,” Rivera said. “For what we want to do and how we want to run the football, he’ll fit very nicely.”
Matsko worked specifically with Williams on Friday morning on keeping his pad level low and staying balanced. The session didn’t end until Rivera got the pair’s attention from about 50 yards away and pointed to his watch, indicating that Williams needed to be set free if he was going to have time for lunch before a team meeting and then another practice.
Williams knows he could use the extra work. The Texas native said he didn’t start playing football until eighth grade, having concentrated mostly on basketball before then. Was he big in high school?
“Just tall and lanky,” Williams said. “I only weighed like 240 in my junior year.”
I guess lankiness is all a matter of perspective, and for Williams it came 89 pounds ago. Now he’s a very big man who will eventually be asked to handle a very big job.
How quickly he gets there? That’s going to be up to him, but it’s obvious that the Panthers are going to do their best to push Williams along.
Fowler: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @scott_fowler