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Offensive line rounding into form

Posted Oct 1, 2013

CHARLOTTE – An offensive line is required to protect the quarterback, and on that note, your pride.

Both took hits in Week 2 against the Buffalo Bills.

After allowing just one sack and one quarterback hit against the Seattle Seahawks in the season opener, Cam Newton was sacked six times and took nine hits against the Bills.

The New York Giants entered the Week 3 matchup against Carolina intending to duplicate Buffalo's pass-rushing success.

"We knew they'd be licking their chops," left tackle Jordan Gross said.

On the Panthers' third offensive play, Newton was sacked for a 15-yard loss, and many likely flashbacked to images of the pocket collapsing around him in Buffalo.

Gross expected as much.

"Our first drive, we went three-and-out and gave up a sack, and just naturally some people think, 'Oh, here we go again,'" Gross said.

But that first quarter sack by Giants defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka would be the only one Carolina allowed. Newton had a clean pocket to throw from throughout the day, which ended with a resounding 38-0 win.

There's no denying how good that bounce-back performance felt for the offensive line. Those triumphant feelings are best defined by right tackle Byron Bell.

In Week 2 at Buffalo, Bell was often matched up against defensive end Mario Williams, who finished with a Bills record 4.5 sacks and earned AFC Defensive Player of the Week.

"I took it personal," Bell said.

So he reached out to head coach Ron Rivera when the team arrived back in Charlotte.

"I got a text from Byron after we got back, and he apologized for what happened," Rivera said. "He was really disappointed and down on himself. He and I talked during the week and said, ‘Let's move forward and let's forget about the past.'

"He played well (against the Giants). He and Jordan Gross graded out as the highest (offensive linemen), and they both received game balls."

Playing that well and contributing to a victory following the struggles in Buffalo meant a lot to the third-year tackle.

"It was very important for me," Bell said. "I know what I'm capable of. The Week 2 performance is not acceptable. I'm the starting right tackle, and they expect me to play at a high level each and every Sunday."

That's the expectation for the entire offensive line, which appears to be settling in.

"You can look back at what we're doing Week 1 to now," guard Travelle Wharton said, "and it's improvement."

After starting right guard Garry Williams was lost for the season in Week 1, Chris Scott has stepped into that role and impressed. With starting left guard Amini Silatolu working back from a hamstring injury, Wharton has helped shore up the interior of the offensive line.

"You've got to give credit to the offensive line," Rivera said. "The offensive line has really rounded into shape."

Running back DeAngelo Williams' early-season production demonstrates that fact.

Williams, who has 291 rushing yards, was the NFL's third-leading rusher prior to the Panthers' Week 4 bye, and Carolina's 151 rushing yards per game is the third-highest average in the league.

"I think we're performing pretty well," Bell said. "We're meshing together. We are running the ball efficiently. Our pass protection in Week 2 wasn't very good. We got it corrected in Week 3. We are going to keep striving and building on that."

Following the win against the Giants, fullback Mike Tolbert was asked if there was concern about the state of the offensive line.

The questioned puzzled him.

"For who? It wasn't a concern for us as running backs," Tolbert said. "The offensive line played great. This year we've got some key guys back, (center) Ryan (Kalil) is back healthy, which is big for us, Amini is back after he broke his wrist last year.

"I wouldn't rather run behind any other line; I can tell you that much."