CHARLOTTE – If the Panthers are going to make a push in the second half of the season, they are going to need the offensive line to get healthy and develop some cohesiveness.
The group is heading in the right direction, with left tackle Byron Bell and left guard Amini Silatolu returning to practice on Wednesday. Both are expected to play against the Philadelphia Eagles on Monday night.
"It's really good," said head coach Ron Rivera, whose team has started five different offensive line combinations in nine games. "First of all, we got to increase the age of our offensive line by having guys back on the football field, which is a huge plus for us. That gives us an opportunity to build that cohesiveness again. We've used different offensive lines almost the entire season. It would be nice to be able to settle in and have a group play together for a while."
Silatolu has missed the last three games with a calf injury. Undrafted rookie Andrew Norwell, who started two games in his place at left guard, has moved to right guard with Silatolu back in action.
"The calf feels good. I'll be ready to go," Silatolu said. "I feel fresh."
Bell was inactive last week against the Saints with knee and elbow injuries. It was only the second game he's missed in his four-year career, and undrafted rookie David Foucault made his first career start in his place.
"Sitting out hurts," Bell said. "But I feel real good. We had a nice little break. I got a lot of treatment and did some running – got my weight down a little bit. I'll be ready to play Monday night."
The last piece of the offensive line puzzle is rookie guard Trai Turner, who was limited during Wednesday's practice. The third-round selection has missed the last two games with knee and ankle injuries.
"Today is the most I've been able to do, and I'm just trying to progress every day," Turner said. "I want to be out there as soon as possible. I'm just trying to get better.
"It's definitely tough. You want to be out there and go to war with the fellas, but ultimately I'm doing what is best, which is getting healthy."
The collective health of the offensive line is improved, and the group is nearing full strength. Now, with the regulars back in action, it's up to that unit to become tone-setters for a team in need of a second-half surge.
"I feel like we can," Bell said. "When we get everyone back healthy we've got a nice little rotation. We can get on a roll."