CHARLOTTE - If one thing was clear in Sunday’s game against the Rams, it was the dominance of running back Christian McCaffrey. But how exactly did it happen? One man can’t gain 209 scrimmage yards alone. It takes some help from the big guys up front, and McCaffrey will be the first to tell you.
“I thought they did an unbelievable job,” McCaffrey said. “It’s a very good D-line and our O-line has been working hard all preseason, so to go out there and have the performance that they did, I’m proud to be a running back in that group. They make my job easy.”
The Panthers offensive line is an experienced one, but not necessarily with each other. After the departure of long-time stalwart Ryan Kalil this offseason, there were bound to be some new faces in the trenches. With center Matt Paradis new to the team and left tackle Daryl Williams rejoining the starting lineup and switching positions after sitting out most of last season with a knee injury, even the veterans need time to get comfortable playing together.
Last season the offensive line helped lead the Panthers to the top of the NFL's rushing charts, as the team ranked first in rushing yards per carry (5.13) and fourth in rushing yards per game (133.5) in 2018. Although it was only one game, the new group is off to a hot start this year, too. After Sunday's performance the Panthers were tied for the league lead with three rushing touchdowns and ranked seventh in rushing yards per carry (5.52).
Head coach Ron Rivera liked what he saw from his offensive line in the season opener and credited its success to the chemistry the group is starting to develop.
“It’s the same thing you see when you look at defensive players,” Rivera said. “When an offense does something and you see guys move from one spot to another without having to say a word, you know that they’ve gelled and really been together for a while.”
Williams didn’t think anything of the offensive line’s ability to communicate nonverbally, because it’s a skill that’s been years in the making for him.
“It’s not surprising at all,” Williams said. “We’ve been practicing that since I’ve been here.”
Right guard Trai Turner, the Panthers most veteran offensive lineman, attributes the group’s success to more time working together, something they won’t get much of this week with just one true practice before Thursday night’s game against Tampa Bay.
“I think it’s reps. I feel like we can take some positives from the game yesterday. Of course, we didn’t come out with a win, but we can take some positives going into the game on Thursday,” Turner said. “I feel like everybody plays a part in everything that goes on, from the throws to the run to the catch to the block, so as long as we’re all on the same page we’ll be alright.”
Take a look at the best pictures from arrivals, pre-game, locker room, in-game and post-game action from Sunday's season opener against the Rams.