CHARLOTTE – Offensive linemen aren't allowed to get very physical during offseason workouts, making the practice field a training ground for a rule change that will penalize players for lowering their heads to initiate contact.
"We can't get our heads in the drill," right tackle Daryl Williams said. "So we're working our technique, especially our hands."
Williams had his hands full as a rookie in 2015 learning how to be a productive NFL lineman. But now, with his rookie contract set to expire after the 2018 season, Williams has put himself in position to get his hands on more money after a 2017 season in which multiple publications handed out hardware to him.
"Of course I did. Of course I did," the soft-spoken Williams said with a smile when asked if he enjoyed the accolades he received.
Williams, in his first season as a starter from Week 1, was named to the All-Pro second team. He also earned first-team All-Pro honors from Pro Football Focus after grading out as the top right tackle in the league according to the metrics-heavy website.
"It went good," Williams said. "I've got to thank God and thank my coaches – Coach (John) Matsko and (Ray) Brown – and my offensive linemen. We held each other accountable. We worked hard last year."
Williams is well aware that his standout season should help his standing in contract negotiations, which could possibly lead to a deal before the season starts. Right guard Trai Turner, coming off a second consecutive Pro Bowl appearance last offseason, signed a four-year contract extension shortly before training camp began in 2017.
"Obviously that helps with that. I'm thankful," Williams said. "I love being here. I would love to finish my career here, but I'm just focused on practicing. I'll finish up this minicamp, and I'll just leave that stuff to my agent."
The Panthers thought enough of Williams coming out of the University of Oklahoma in 2015 to trade three draft picks in order to move up 22 spots and grab him early in fourth round. Williams made a modest impact as a rookie and was set to be a backup again in 2016. But when starting left tackle Michael Oher was sidelined by a concussion three games into the season, Mike Remmers slid over from right guard for what turned out to be the rest of the season.
Williams stepped in on the right side. He endured ups and downs during the only season out of the last five that didn't end with the Panthers in the playoffs, but his 10 starts (he missed three games with an ankle injury) clearly paid dividends come 2017.
"That was very important, a blessing in disguise," Williams said. "It set me up to come in more comfortable my third year and more focused. Being able to start beginning with the third game of the year – getting that experience and gaining that comfort level going into my third year – that helped a lot."
Regardless of whether Williams gets a new contract before the 2018 season kicks off, he's set to be a staple along a mostly stable line. The plan at left guard still hasn't come into focus, but Williams is surrounded by players he's played with coming off a 11-5 season.
"Man, we're very comfortable together," Williams said. "Everybody played together last year, and that includes Tyler (Larsen) and Amini (Silatolu) as well as Taylor (Moton) coming in and growing up. We're all comfortable and compatible together, and the depth is there, too.
"I think if we just keep practicing hard – which we will – we should be great."