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Where Things Stand: Offensive line

Posted Mar 9, 2018

Panthers.com sets the stage for the start of the new league year with a status report for each position group.

(Leading up to the start of free agency on March 14, Panthers.com is looking at the state of each position group.)

POSITION REVIEW: A new look at the tackle spots paid dividends, helping the Panthers bounce back from a season of upheaval along the offensive front and atone for a 6-10 record by finishing 11-5. Daryl Williams truly came into his own at right tackle after having gotten his first significant shot the year before, making second team All-Pro. Matt Kalil, a big acquisition in free agency, endured some ups and downs but stabilized the left tackle spot. Guards Andrew Norwell (first team All-Pro) and Trai Turner again excelled, and the duo of Ryan Kalil and Tyler Larsen got the job done at center.

STATS OF SIGNIFICANCE: Larsen proved plenty capable of stepping up when Ryan Kalil missed 10 games with a neck injury, and otherwise the Panthers' starters missed a total of three starts. The previous year, injuries sidelined Carolina's starters 37 times. Not coincidentally, Panthers won five more games than the previous year.

WORTH WATCHING AGAIN: In Week 14, the offensive line sprung running back Jonathan Stewart for a 60-yard touchdown run that jumpstarted a crucial victory over the Vikings. The blocking was, in a word, textbook.

TOP OFFSEASON STORYLINES: The Panthers – having invested in long-term deals last offseason for Turner and Matt Kalil – aren't expected to be in position to re-sign Norwell coming off the best year of his career. Williams is entering the final year of his rookie contract, and Ryan Kalil (a five-time Pro Bowler) has said that 2018 will be his final season before retirement.

HOPE FOR 2018: If Norwell does walk in free agency, the first order of business will be identifying a new starting left guard. Taylor Moton, a second-round draft choice as a tackle in 2017, is an intriguing option, as is Larsen or maybe veteran Amini Silatolu (another potential free agent). All three of those guys have position flexibility, something the Panthers will no doubt look for if they decide to add to the unit via the draft.

There are several early-round prospects that fit that bill. Isiah Wynn of Georgia played tackle in college but could be a stellar guard in the NFL. Will Hernandez of UTEP is considered a "plug-and-play" guard prospect. Billy Price of Ohio State and Frank Ragnow of Arkansas played center in college but also could play guard.

In the free agent market, there are about a half-dozen guards behind Norwell in the pecking order that could come in and start – though most of them started on the right side last year. One who did line up on the left side is Jonathan Cooper, a North Carolina native selected No. 7 overall in the 2013 draft who resurrected his career with the Cowboys last season but is working his way back from knee surgery.