If strengthening their pass rush was priority 1-A this offseason, bolstering their offensive line was priority 1-B for the Carolina Panthers.
Keeping Cam Newton upright is vital to the team’s future and general manager Marty Hurney took steps to do so over the past several months.
He signed one of the top free agents at his position in center Matt Paradis, re-signed tackle Daryl Williams and drafted tackled Greg Little and Dennis Daley. It would seem Carolina turned a position of doubt into one of strength or at least depth.
It’s also a familiar feeling.
The Panthers began offseason practice last season with a sturdy offensive line on paper, before losing Williams, Matt Kalil and Jeremiah Sirles to injury. It’s why head coach Ron Rivera doesn’t take his team’s current depth for granted.
“I see we have some potential, but at the end of the day it’s about being able to stay healthy, too,” he said after Wednesday’s organized team activity. “We felt pretty good going into last year, then we lost three tackles in four days of practice. We’ve just got to stay healthy and be fortunate that way.”
If the Panthers can avoid serious injuries, they’ll have an opportunity to improve an offensive line that blocked its way to the NFL’s highest rushing yards per attempt in 2018.
The problem, however, is the line is not yet 100 percent healthy.
Paradis continues to return from the broken leg he suffered last year with the Denver Broncos while Williams, who missed all of the 2018 season, works his way back as well. Rivera called Paradis’ situation, “fluid” but “on schedule.” Both players participated in some capacity during Wednesday’s practice.
While the two veterans recuperate, the rookies Little and Daley will get valuable practice reps — and have performed well enough to inspire confidence in their coaches, although Rivera is careful not to let that devolve into premature optimism.
“I do like the young guys, I think that we added some quality depth,” he said. “But you really don’t know until you get a chance to play. We like the depth, hopefully we can keep the depth.”
At full strength, some combination of Little, Williams, Paradis, Trai Turner and Taylor Moton is likely Carolina’s starting offensive line, with Greg van Roten and Tyler Larsen operating as key backups; the exact combination is yet to be determined.
When the Panthers will get to full strength and how long they’ll stay there is yet to be determined as well.