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Panthers' offensive tackles gearing up for significant season

Taylor Moton at training camp

CHARLOTTE — In a year full of unique challenges, the business of pro football has largely remained the same.

While altered, free agency went on as scheduled. The draft was held without interruption, too.

But as the Panthers continue training camp, their starting offensive tackles could have some business to tend to. Though they're in separate stages of their careers, right tackle Taylor Moton and left tackle Russell Okung are entering the final year of their respective contracts.

Carolina drafted Moton with the 64th overall pick in the second round back in 2017. He's started 32 games for the club as its primary right tackle the last two years. Now that the soft-spoken Moton is facing contract questions, it's no surprise he's not willing to hint at much.

"I've been told my whole life — grinding, and saying that if I do what I'm supposed to do, I focus on taking things one day at a time, then everything else will fall into place," he said this week. "That's part of trusting the process. I'd like to think I'm a very process-oriented person, so that's all I'm focused on is the next day, and I'm focused on football right now."

Okung is entering his 11th pro season, having spent six years with the Seahawks, one with the Broncos, and the last three with the Chargers. And when asked about his future, Okung's answer was similar to Moton's.

"For right now, I still have an opportunity to be the starting left tackle for the Panthers. We're working in training camp trying to get to Week 1, and we'll see how it shapes up," said Okung, who signed his current four-year deal with the Chargers back in 2017. "For now, I love what I do. I would hope that I'm a real contributor to the team."

Having just turned 26 on Tuesday, Moton is still relatively young and potentially entering his prime. With a new coaching staff, he's done his best to adapt, especially when it comes to offensive line coach Pat Meyer.

"I love working with him, and I'm excited to get to know him even better," Moton said. "He's just like all the other coaches I see around, they demand the best out of the players. So I'm going to give him my best day-in and day-out."

So far, head coach Matt Rhule has liked what he's seen from his right tackle.

"I think he's one of the really bright, young players on the team," Rhule said. "Really, really smart player, physical, constantly working to get better. When I got here and watched the tape from last year, I really liked what he did. I think the way he plays and the things he does really fit our schemes."

Okung has the advantage of having worked with Meyer for the past three seasons, as Meyer held the same job of offensive line coach with the Chargers. That's eased Okung's transition to a new offense.

"I understand what (Meyer's) expectations are," Okung said.

Rhule praised Okung's leadership, too, saying he has a quiet style that seems authentic and effective.

"It's really cool to see," Rhule said. "He's a great guy, but he's also helping those young players. People talk a lot about leadership, and I'll say it again, it's not about giving speeches. It's about helping other players play better. That's really all it is.

"A guy like Russell, who takes guys out there and works with them a little — five minutes here, three minutes there, seven minutes there, a kind word here — he has an impact on them that helps them play better. That's leadership in its truest form."

Okung's veteran status also means he knows his body well. He's been dealing with some lower-back tightness so far in camp, and the Panthers have limited his snaps. But when Okung wanted to take more reps during Tuesday's practice, Rhule let him.

"We have the GPS monitors on him, and we're trying to keep him between a half and two-thirds of the load of everybody else," Rhule said. "He's just got a lot more reps on them over the years."

Okung has also appreciated how the Panthers have allowed him to ramp up the way he needs to, especially after playing only six games last year.

"I think the organization has proven to be top class in recognizing the health and safety of their players," he said.

Both Moton and Okung have illustrated how effective they can be. If the season trends positively, they could be bookending Carolina's line for more than just this season.

View photos from Tuesday's practice at training camp.

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