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First major test for Carolina O-line: DeMarcus Lawrence


CHARLOTTE – Arguably the biggest question for Carolina entering the regular season opener concerns the right tackle spot.

Daryl Williams' status was put in doubt when he suffered a knee injury during training camp, but he's ahead of schedule in his recovery and has been a limited participant in practice this week.

Williams' availability for Sunday's game against the Cowboys remains to be seen. If he doesn't play, the backup right tackle is Corey Robinson, who was acquired in a trade with the Lions on cutdown day.

We may not know who the Panthers will have at right tackle Sunday, but we know who is going to be rushing the passer from that side. That would be Pro Bowl defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence, who finished second in the NFL with 14.5 sacks last year. Lawrence also led the NFL with 52 pressures and a pressure rate of 11.45 percent on 454 pass-rush snaps.

"He's a quality football player," head coach Ron Rivera said. "He's an explosive guy off the edge. He's got good quickness, got a variety of moves. He can go speed to power."

Lawrence, who had nine career sacks after his first three seasons, raised the bar for himself with so much production in 2017. And he raised it even higher this offseason when he told that his goal is to become the best defensive end of all time.

"That's what I want to be known as," Lawrence said. "You've got to keep working in order to get there. I feel like I laid the foundation last year for myself."

Injuries along the offensive line have been a constant challenge for Carolina this preseason, and Lawrence's game-wrecking ability will provide quite a test to kick things off in 2018.

But Lawrence isn't the only threat. Former second-round defensive end Randy Gregory is coming off a solid preseason and appears ready to complement the pass rush from the other side.

"You definitely put an asterisk by that guy," right guard Trai Turner said of Lawrence. "But you can't forget about the other guys out there. They're all capable."

Added Rivera: "I'm sure defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli will have some things up his sleeve for not just (Lawrence), but other guys as well. They've got some good football players."

Ideally, the Panthers would have the 6-foot-6, 330-pound Williams matched up against Dallas' star left defensive end, but Williams has got to prove he's physically ready.

If Williams is out there, Turner is confident he'll be up to the task.

"(Daryl) was an All-Pro last year for a reason. He's an outstanding player," Turner said. "I know when he's back out there he's going to be ready. And I'll do my part to help him when he's in there so we can be at our best."

View photos from the first week of Panthers' practice leading up to their game against the Cowboys.