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Carolina Panthers

Ikem Ekwonu sees teaching points in Patriots game

Ikem Ekwonu

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — With most of the Panthers starters having the night off, the few who played were out there for specific reasons.

And for rookie left tackle Ikem Ekwonu, there were glimpses of his potential, and some clear illustrations of what he needs to work on in the coming weeks.

The Panthers started Ekwonu and left guard Brady Christensen, the only two likely offensive line starters to play against the Patriots, to get them some reps and a chance to grow together.

On the first possession, Ekwonu showed his agility and strength in the run game, pulling to the edge and pancaking a Patriots defensive back. On the second possession, there were a couple of sacks on his side, and that's what he held onto.

"I'm definitely a little disappointed in how I played," Ekwonu said. "Giving up two sacks, that's not the standard I want to play to, obviously."

But from the moment he gave up those plays, he immediately went to work correcting them. On the first, Patriots defensive lineman Deatrich Wise split between Ekwonu and Christensen, and when the offense was back on the bench, they immediately began talking about how they pass stunts off. In that regard, Ekwonu said he's grateful to be next to Christensen, who finished last year at left tackle.

"Brady is a technician. He's a guy I look to when I want to study my own technique and what I should be using," Ekwonu said. "So he's definitely a technician of the game and somebody I'm looking forward to learning from. We were just talking about passing stunts, talking about stuff like that, being on the same page.

"That's something that, more and more we play next to each other, that chemistry is going to keep growing."

Ekwonu was also getting some counsel from defensive end Brian Burns, who has worked with him on pass-rush specifics throughout camp. Burns pointed out to Ekwonu some of the nuances of the moves the Patriots were using against him.

"From that point on, he did pretty well," Burns said with a nod, saying the rookie has impressed him with the way he accepts instruction.

But it's obviously something the Panthers need the 21-year-old Ekwonu to polish.

"Yeah, Ickey's just young," head coach Matt Rhule said. "As I said to you guys, a young left tackle, we need to make sure he's prepared for the season. So he needed these reps. So to go against (Matthew) Judon, to go against Deatrich Wise, those are excellent pass-rushers.

"Even as we were walking off the field together at the end of the game, . . . (we talked about) what happened, and his thought process, and helping him learn from that.

"Hey, this is what happened; I expected a bull(-rush), he went to this, and that's invaluable, invaluable work. Same thing for Brady. We wanted to get those guys some reps, and we did."

Ekwonu stressed that the problems were correctable, and "stuff that I definitely can work on and fix."

"It's just playing my game, not letting the defense take me out of my game, working on my technique," he said.

But even though the sacks stuck out in his mind, his coaches and teammates also saw some positives, including that early play. In the run game, he's a powerful player who has made an immediate difference in camp, moving people at the line of scrimmage.

"Definitely, that part of the game is something I want to keep growing and developing," Ekwonu said. "That's part of the game I feel pretty good about coming out of college, but the other side, the pass-protection side, is something I want to shore up.

"I feel like I've definitely made some improvements. Getting my timing right. I still need some work, but compared to where I was earlier in the summer, strides have been taken there."

View the best in-game photos from Carolina's preseason game at New England.

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