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Brady Christensen's back on his feet, back to work

Bryce Young, Brady Christensen, Ikem Ekwonu

CHARLOTTE — Continuity is a tricky thing in the NFL, hard to acquire, and even harder to keep.

So after Brady Christensen found a new position last year and learned it well on the fly, the plan was complicated heading into his third season.

Following a rookie year spent bouncing from side to side and outside to inside, he settled in at left guard last year and started all 17 games. Of course, he didn't finish all 17, as he broke his ankle in the regular season finale at New Orleans — the same day right guard Austin Corbett suffered a torn ACL. Those injuries, among other things, threw a consistent line into flux heading into the offseason, but he's back on the field now and working to get back to that stable place.

While he wasn't sure in January when he'd be ready, a smooth healing process has allowed him to participate fully in OTAs, resuming his now-normal spot next to left tackle Ikem Ekwonu.

"For sure. The staff has done great for me, they have a good program for me, and I stuck with it. It's progressed fast, it healed up quickly, and it's going great," Christensen said. "I had an appointment about a month ago; the doctor said it's healed up, you're good, you've just got to get the strength and mobility back.

"So once he said that, and I had confidence that it was healthy, I could really progress it quickly."

Bradley Bozeman, Brady Christensen

The physical hurdle was not an insignificant one for Christensen, who spent last year adjusting to playing guard. His experience at BYU was at left tackle, and he got some time there during a rookie season that saw the Panthers use 13 combinations of starters in 17 games. But with an offseason to get used to the traffic inside, he proved to be a reliable starter there and built a relationship with the 2022 first-round pick next to him.

"Man, he got better and better with each experience," offensive line coach James Campen said of Christensen. "With the different sizes of defenders, when you get to start all 17 games, you see all variations of heights and weights, and that helps a guy inside that's converted from outside to inside. The distance is closed on them. You go from 90 percent of the time blocking an edge guy in space, and now everything's right there.

"He did a really good job of getting better every game, and he's out working now, and he looks good and is progressing really well."

And while Corbett continues to rehab, bringing all five starters back from last year's line allows the group to build on what was becoming a strength, just in time to welcome a new quarterback in Bryce Young. So the importance of that line that was built over the previous two offseasons is clear, and Christensen said the experience together is a benefit in a number of ways.

"It's huge. You've got to play as one, and you've got to know what all five are doing, so that helps a ton," he said. "I'd say the pre-snap talk, the communication, knowing exactly what you're doing. And you can mess with people; you don't have to call exactly what you're doing, and you can mess with the defense a little bit. And really switch it up, and get the defense guessing. That's the biggest part."

That communication with center Bradley Bozeman and Ekwonu is important, of course, but so are the daily reps he's getting now that he's back on his feet.

That wasn't anything he could take for granted this offseason, as he and Corbett went from the grind of a long season to a different kind of routine — rehabbing together and continuing to help each other.

Corbett's not out on the field yet and won't be for some time, which adds a wrinkle to a group that remained so fortunate and productive last year.

There will likely be some competition for Corbett's starting job at the beginning of the regular season, and they have some options. Cade Mays occupied the "next man up" role after replacing Corbett in the Saints game. The Panthers also drafted guard Chandler Zavala in the fourth round, adding another possibility to the mix.

Zavala has always played on the left (and next to Ekwonu himself at N.C. State), but has gotten some work on the other side as well. But as much as they value stability, the guys on that line know they can't take it for granted after the way last year finished.

Christensen and Corbett were together watching a drag race when Zavala was drafted, and they both know that adding talent to the position could impact them at some point. Campen said recently, "the competition's going to be very, very high this year," but that's been the case for last year's starting guards already, as they were pushing against the clock to get back on the field.

Christensen's ahead of his friend and fellow starter in that regard but said having a partner in the process was beneficial.

"It's always nice to have someone to push you, and I feel like we've done that for each other," Christensen said. "Even on the slow days in January and February, when it was just us in there, really pushing each other. It can get a little monotonous in the rehab, so we pushed each other every day."

And now he's back on the field and trying to maintain the momentum he built last year alongside the rest of the line.

View photos of the Panthers as they continued OTAs on Wednesday.

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