CHARLOTTE – With the season officially over just days ago, head coach Ron Rivera and his players are wasting no time putting 2016 behind them.
Center Ryan Kalil put it in the rearview a while ago.
"I'm feeling good, just rehabbing away," said Kalil, who was placed on injured reserve with a shoulder injury on November 29. "These guys have been working and grinding throughout the season. I've sort of had the luxury of being able to put 2016 behind me already. I've moved on."
Kalil was on the field for three victories in 2016. In two of those games, he was forced to exit early due to the shoulder injury.
His backup, Gino Gradkowski, suffered a season-ending knee injury shortly after taking over, and he joined Kalil and starting left tackle Michael Oher on injured reserve. Throw in a late-season ankle injury for right tackle Daryl Williams, and the Panthers were forced to piece together an offensive line as the season wore on.
"I've actually been quite proud of how my group responded given the injuries and the guys we've missed," Kalil said. "The guys we brought in just did an incredible job. Trai Turner is not a tackle, but he went out and played right tackle. Mike Remmers played both right and left tackle – that's a hard thing to do in this league. Not everybody can do that, especially against the best defensive ends in the country. And a third-string center? It says a lot about our group in general."
"Coach (John) Matsko and (Ray) Brown, those guys take a lot of pride in preparing everybody like they're a starter."
Kalil's offseason priority is shoulder rehab and getting healthy for the 2017 season – which offers a clean slate for a team determined to get back in contention for a championship.
"Each and every year is different, as you can tell from the contrast of these past two seasons. It'll be interesting to see what the new team looks like in 2017," Kalil said. "I'll rehab and get healthy to contribute the best I can. I look forward to being a part of it and doing whatever I can to help us win football games."
View photos of the players as they pack up and head into the offseason.