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Carolina Panthers

Silatolu successfully reprises role

CHARLOTTE – Before injuries last season opened the door for an undrafted rookie named Andrew Norwell to carve out his niche at left guard, that was Amini Silatolu's spot.

Monday night against the Indianapolis Colts, Silatolu was put on the spot when Norwell suffered a hamstring injury.

Silatolu responded to the challenge and could get another opportunity this Sunday against the Green Bay Packers.

"I hadn't played guard in a while, but I was pretty much able to get back into it," said Silatolu, who had been practicing at tackle all season. "It's about how we prepare. We practice like we're going to play everything. I felt comfortable."

Norwell missed practice again Thursday, increasing the chances that the Panthers will again call on Silatolu, Chris Scott or both to play left guard. Scott actually got a lot of work at center Thursday with Ryan Kalil (knee) and Fernando Velasco (shoulder) limited.

Silatolu, a second-round draft pick in 2012, started all but one game at left guard as a rookie. He was still the starting left guard when healthy in 2013 and 2014 but started just three games in 2013 before suffering a knee injury and started seven games in 2014 before another knee injury.

Midway through last season, after Norwell had done well while starting three of four games for Silatolu – first because of a calf injury, then because of the knee – the Panthers moved Silatolu to tackle. When then-starting right tackle Nate Chandler was placed on injured reserve, the Panthers looked at starting either Silatolu or recent acquisition Mike Remmers at right tackle.

But Silatolu's knee didn't get any better, opening the door for Remmers, who has started every game since. Since returning to health, Silatolu has served as a backup tackle – before Monday night.

"It wasn't too hard. I had played guard for the past three years," Silatolu said. "I'm comfortable at guard. I'm getting there at tackle, just working on the little things."

Velasco, for one, wasn't surprised by how Silatolu stepped up.

"Amini is a consummate pro, and it's a credit to the coaches," Velasco said. "Coach (John) Matsko and Coach (Ray) Brown always have us prepared, and they cross-train guys to make sure everybody knows every position and that everybody is comfortable. Like for me, even as a center, I have to know what the tackles are doing."

Velasco, who started seven games at guard in his first season with Carolina in 2014, could be asked to fill in Kalil for a second straight week, though Kalil's limited participation in practice Thursday was a step forward.

"To lose two guys like that – Ryan before the game, then Norwell right after the first drive – and still move the ball like we did was a credit to Fernando and Amini," offensive coordinator Mike Shula said.

Velasco re-signed with the Panthers before Week 2 this season and has been concentrating on center since returning.

"I felt pretty confident that I would get a call; I was just hoping it was a call to come back here. Thank God it happened," said Velasco, now in his seventh NFL season. "This is a special place. I really enjoyed my time here last year and was really hoping I got a chance to come back. I'm just glad everything worked out."

So are the Panthers, who weren't able to successfully handle a rash of injuries along the offensive line last season but have been able to sustain so far thanks to the likes of Velasco, Silatolu and Scott.

"One of the big pieces we needed on the offensive line was a backup center, and Fernando fills that void very well for us," head coach Ron Rivera said. "He's a very smart football player who understands our offensive scheme having been in it last year. It made sense when he was available that we went out and got him – I really appreciate (general manager) Dave (Gettleman) doing that.

"And then you look at what we've got with Amini, a guy who has started for us and done some things for us, and it's the same thing with Chris Scott. We're fortunate in that respect."

View photos from the Panthers' week of practice leading up to their game versus the Packers.

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