Life goes on for offensive line

CHARLOTTE – So Jeremiah Sirles, the Panthers’ right tackle with three starting offensive linemen currently out with knee injuries, how are the spirits in the position room?

“It’s not like these guys have died,” Sirles said. “Morale is good.”

From that perspective, the news that left tackle Matt Kalil had surgery Monday, joining right tackle Daryl Williams and left guard Amini Silatolu as a sidelined starters, doesn’t seem that tragic.

There also are other reasons that panic hasn’t set in around Bank of America Stadium – and Sirles stands among them. Head coach Ron Rivera is encouraged by how the veteran with experience in a similar situation has stepped up and how a relative newcomer in Taylor Moton has done even more of the same. Rivera also likes what he’s seen from Greg Van Roten, currently holding down the left guard job.

The other good news? None among the sidelined trio suffered a season-ending injury, and the season opener is still 19 days away.

“We have time,” Rivera said. “We’re still in the middle of training camp. We’ve got a number of guys that have opportunities, and we’ll get those guys back because none of those were season ending, thank goodness.

“Now it’s just a matter of time; we’ll see how it all unfolds.”

As the sun peaked through during an overcast practice Tuesday, a silver lining in the form of Williams worked on the side for the first time since injuring his right knee early in training camp. Rivera said he and Kalil – who is also recovering from a right knee injury, remain “week-by-week,” but Rivera described Silatolu (left knee) as “day-by-day.”

It’s too early to forecast the likelihood that any of them will play Week 1 against the Cowboys, but the Panthers aren’t sitting on their hands. Rivera described general manager Marty Hurney as “busy” when it comes to keeping an eye on possible additions not currently on the roster, but Rivera is excited about the ability and versatility of those already on the roster.

“We’ve got a group of young guys who have all stepped up. They’re competing,” Rivera said.

The least youngest among the group – five-time Pro Bowl center Ryan Kali – shared his perspective Tuesday on his brother and on the team’s current tackles.

On Matt Kalil: “I talked to him before he went in (to surgery). Obviously he was bummed, but they sound pretty optimistic that we'll get him sooner rather than later. But I don't know when that'll be and now my focus is on who the next guy's going to be. That's Taylor, and he's doing a great job for us right now."

On Taylor Moton: “It's like he's been playing there five years and I forgot [tackle is] what he played in college. So you can definitely tell he feels a lot more comfortable at tackle. He can play right, he can play left. He's done a great job and I've been very, very happy with how he's been playing."

On Jeremiah Sirles: “He's just a solid player all around. His versatility is pretty incredible. He can play guard, he can play tackle and he's incredibly smart. He came in the first two weeks and already knew the playbook like that. Having a guy like that who can obviously fill in when you have injuries, but also just having a smart guy on the line to help you. There's times I get up there and I'm not always quite certain what I'm looking at because I have to look at so many things. Having guys like him, Van Roten – an Ivy League guy in there next to you – it makes my job a lot easier."

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It wouldn’t be surprising if Moton were a bit dizzy these days. The second-year pro started training camp as a candidate for the left guard spot vacated by Andrew Norwell and as the primary backup at tackle. Then Williams’ injury moved Moton into the starting right tackle slot, only to have Matt Kalil’s injury move him to left tackle.

“I’m not surprised by anything at this point,” Moton said. “With how the NFL works and how often injuries happen, I wouldn’t be surprised with wherever I might have to play.

“You can’t come in and be shocked about it or nervous. You’ve got to be confident. All right, I’ve got to play left tackle. OK, no problem. I know what I’m doing. I’m excited about it. Let’s get going.”

That attitude was obvious to Rivera even before Moton’s merry-go-round was set into motion.

“The guy that has been stellar, knock on wood, is Taylor. We’ve been able to move him around, and he’s seem to adapt very nicely,” Moton said. “He’s made a very big jump. He stayed around in the offseason and just did a tremendous job in there working on things. Every time I’d walk by the weight room and just take a quick look at who was there, he was always there. It’s showing. Good for him. I’m very happy for him. He took ownership and has done a great job.”

Moton played predominantly on the right side at Western Michigan, but he’s preparing for the possibility of starting Week 1 in the highest profile position along the line.

“I know it’s a spotlighted position, but wherever you’re at on the offensive line is an important role,” he said. “We have to protect Cam and make holes for the running backs.”

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Moton is preparing for the possibilities; Sirles has lived through them.

Sirles was with the Vikings In 2016 when Matt Kalil’s season was over after two games. Sirles stepped in Week 3 and played the majority of a victory over the Panthers at left guard because of an injury, then the next week he took over at right tackle – and remained there – after Andre Smith went down to a season-ending injury.

The Vikings still managed to start the season 5-0.

“That’s kind of been the story of my career – being whatever I need to be, whatever I need to do to help our team win,” said Sirles, who signed with the Panthers this offseason. “Whether that’s tackle, guard or center, I just try to prepare every week like I’m a starter even if I’m not because you never know what can happen.”

Sirles, who got significant work at guard before the rash of injuries hit, said he’s well-adjusted to making adjustments on the fly.

“Early in my career it was tough; early in my career it took a lot,” he said. “But as I’ve gotten older – I’m going into my fifth year now – I’ve made it my normal practice so it’s not that big of a difference for me. It’s really not that hard for me anymore. It’s become second nature.”

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