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Rookie Chandler Zavala settles in at guard, just as the offensive line needs him

Chandler Zavala

CHARLOTTE – Taylor Moton boasts the most experience along the Panthers' offensive line. Their right tackle hasn't missed a game since he got here in 2017, as he's set to play in his 100th straight this Monday.

And when Moton played in Week 1 beside rookie Chandler Zavala, lined up at right guard in place of an injured Austin Corbett, he didn't even feel like he was beside a first-year NFL offensive lineman.

"I forgot he was a rookie; he seemed like a vet," Moton said. "He knew what he was doing out there; seemed right at home. So I was very proud of him. Excited to see him continue to evolve and grow his game."

Chandler Zavala

Zavala would echo that sentiment, as the guard drafted in the fourth round out of N.C. State this year said he shook the few nerves he had to start in the NFL by the end of his first drive in Atlanta.

"It's not like I was feeling like a rookie or a vet," Zavala said. "It's just like playing my game and just taking it to the next level."

Zavala looked and played like he belonged, and knowing what's going on with the Panthers' interior offensive line heading into Monday Night Football against the Saints, that's critical.

Corbett's not coming off the physically unable to perform list from last year's late ACL injury until Week 5 at the earliest. And Carolina lost its other mainstay guard after the Falcons game, as left guard Brady Christensen landed on injured reserve this week with a season-ending biceps injury.

Zavala slotted in the right guard spot through the preseason after missing a portion of training camp with a hamstring injury. He earned the nod officially the week before the Atlanta game.

"It really is amazing how quickly he settled in," head coach Frank Reich said. "And we saw early, just a high aptitude – high football aptitude. A physically strong man in pass protection, did a particularly good job passing off games. Those were early signs that he's ready to go."

Chandler Zavala, Cade Mays

With Christensen out, Reich announced Saturday that versatile second-year lineman Cade Mays would start in one of the guard spots against New Orleans. Mays received many first-team reps at right guard through OTAs, while Zavala worked through injury in training camp.

Reich was noncommittal about where Zavala will slot now that Christensen is out of the lineup, as Zavala's prior experience playing in college just beside Panthers starting left tackle Ikem Ekwonu would leave the door open for him to move over there.

Zavala said Ekwonu shared advice with him before his first start that helped him against the Falcons.

"He said, 'Just play to your strength,'" Zavala recalled. "'You're a big, strong dude. Just use your strengths. You'll be fine.'"

That's what Zavala did in Atlanta, and that's what he's done since he got to Carolina.

Quarterback Bryce Young has been impressed with the fellow rookie helping protect him, noting how Zavala's personality flips once he's on the field.

Chandler Zavala, Bradley Bozeman

"Chandler's a great dude," Young said. "Like, he's really easy to be around, cool dude to talk to, and just his approach; someone who you could tell is locked in. When he's paying attention, he might not say too much. But you know he's focused. You know he cares. 

"You know, when he steps on the field, it's something that switches, and it changes, and he turns to that killer. (Off the field) he's super approachable and cool to be around. And then, on the field, you can see a change." 

Center Bradley Bozeman will line up beside Zavala regardless of which side he's on, and he shared the same sentiment Reich held about him.

He was a quick learner, and he wanted to earn his spot. 

Now he's there, and he's poised to make an impact that's needed at a challenging juncture.

"He's done a great job from the beginning coming in," Bozeman said. "Really trying to earn that spot and trying to be the guy. He's done a great job in that aspect. And I'm just proud of the way he's played, and he's going to just continue that trend."

In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, RW Latin Dance taught a Bachata class, teaching the Panthers a traditional dance from the Dominican Republic.

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