ORLANDO – If the Panthers' new starting left tackle is already on the roster, general manager Dave Gettleman and head coach Ron Rivera think it could be Byron Bell. Although Bell has made 40 career starts at right tackle since joining the team as an undrafted rookie free agent in 2011, he has experience on the left side.
"Byron is a naturally left-handed kid," Gettleman said. "He played left tackle his whole college career. He's taken snaps there in practice and in preseason games."
Bell started 24 games at left tackle over his final two seasons at New Mexico. As a senior in 2010, he earned recognition as an All-Mountain West Conference honorable mention.
"I think the mistake we make is we all have preconceived notions about what a guy can and can't do," Gettleman said. "I have seen Byron over there. In my mind, he is not a fish out of water."
Rivera echoed that sentiment.
"That might be something that's to (Bell's) benefit," Rivera said. "It might be to our benefit, as well. When you look at the way he does things, his physicality, his athleticism for 330 pounds, that's pretty good. Being where we are in terms of potential on offense, I don't think it's a bad move if he ends up being our left tackle."
Gettleman intends to continue evaluating the free agent offensive tackle market when he returns from the NFL Annual Meeting. He added that the Panthers will seriously consider offensive tackles in the 2014 NFL Draft.
NEW VIEW FOR NEWTON: As he rehabs from ankle surgery, quarterback Cam Newton will be in an unusual position during offseason training activities – watching from the sideline.
Rivera said the coaching and athletic training staffs will play it safe with Newton and will keep him off the field until training camp.
"He's going to get a different perspective on preparation, a different perspective on learning," Rivera said. "He'll sit back and he'll watch things. And he'll be called upon to talk to the guys as they're doing things. He's going to have to develop that rapport with our offense from a different perspective."
CATCHES BY COMMITTEE: When he does return to action, Newton will be teaming up with a dramatically different group of receivers.
As for who will earn the "No.1" label, that's not something Rivera is concerned with. Instead, he is looking for production from the receiving corps as a whole.
"Look at it this way – last year, we rushed 14 out of 16 games for 100 yards. We were fourth in the league in total time of possession. Our receivers averaged – as a group – 10 catches a game. We have to replace those 10 catches a game," Rivera said.
"Now, those 10 catches were significant catches, too. Third-and-medium, third-and-long, somebody had to catch the ball. Those are substantial catches, and that's what we have to replace. Jerricho (Cotchery) gives us that. Tiquan (Underwood) is a guy that can get over the top. He's a strider, and once he gets going, he's gone. There is optimism for that group, and we are not done."
GODFREY ON MEND: Gettleman said safety Charles Godfrey, a six-year veteran who tore his right Achilles tendon in Week 2 last season, is part of the team's ongoing evaluation process.
Godfrey could be a candidate to play free safety alongside strong safety Roman Harper, and he could be an option at nickel back as the Panther look to fill the role left by departed cornerback Captain Munnerlyn.
"We haven't established who our nickel is yet, and that's a discussion we're having," Rivera said. "I know Charles started running. We'll wait and see. He's also a guy that we've talked about playing the nickel. He's got corner skills."
Rivera mentioned newly-signed cornerback Antoine Cason and Josh Thomas as other potential candidates to play the nickel position.