CHARLOTTE – In less than a week, Trai Turner will kiss his youth goodbye.
He better brace for the ripe old age of 24.
"Twenty-three," Turner said with a virtually uncontrollable smile when asked his age. "It's a blessing, to say the least.
"Sometimes I look at guys like Ryan Kalil who are in their 30s, and it's like, 'Man, he's still going.' I have a long career ahead of me. That's just how I look at it."
At 23, the Panthers' starting right guard already has three NFL seasons under his belt and two Pro Bowl appearances to his credit. While a couple of Carolina's rookies already are 23, Turner – who declared for the NFL Draft after his sophomore season at LSU – is already closing in on the end of his rookie contract.
Selected in the third round of the 2014 draft, Turner has just one year left on his rookie deal and is in line to cash in on the impressive start to his career. Turner, however, made it clear he didn't want to discuss his contract status. Instead, he's focused on helping the Panthers bounce back from the first season in his career that didn't end with a playoff game.
"It's a new season every year. Whatever we did last year is null and void," Turner said. "We just have to start fresh. We have some new faces around here, some people in new spots.
"Everybody just has to go out there and make plays, and everything will work out the way it's supposed to."
Turner found himself in a new spot, a position he hadn't played since around the time he first got his driver's license, late last season. Forced into action at right tackle, Turner embraced the challenge for what it was.
Daryl Williams took over at right tackle early in the season when left tackle Michael Oher headed to the concussion protocol and Mike Remmers switched sides. That began a game of musical chairs that appeared to get exponentially more difficult in a Week 12 game in Oakland, when Williams went down with an ankle injury and Turner was asked to slide over.
It wasn't always pretty on the edge, but Turner did pretty well in a difficult situation. The offense caught fire against the Raiders before a stirring rally fell short, and from there the Panthers went 2-1 with Turner at right tackle before Williams returned.
"I just look at is now as experience," Turner said. "I went out there and won some games at tackle. It was something I can learn from and something that can help me develop as a player, help me develop as a guard.
"It helps me understand how my tackle is thinking, what my tackle is feeling. I have that perspective now after being out there on an island like that."
Turner isn't yet sure who the tackle on his side will be in 2017, but now back at guard he already feels at home with the options.
He and Andrew Norwell, who came into the league together, still man the guard spots.
"Time has flown by, going from being the youngest guys on the line," Turner said.
Ten-year veteran Ryan Kalil is still at center, or rather back at center after missing the second half of last season with a shoulder injury.
"It's good to have Ryan back, helping everybody else develop," Turner said. "We still have our fearless leader."
But out on the island Turner visited in 2016, change is afoot. Kalil's brother – Matt – is preparing for his first season as the Panthers' left tackle. On the right side – Turner's side - Williams is plugging along as rookie Taylor Moton works to get up to speed. The status of Oher, considered a potential option at right tackle, remains up in the air.
"It's always key for you to go into the season healthy and stay healthy. It allows older guys like Ryan to rest and allows younger guys to develop as opposed to being in a crunch with numbers," said Turner, encouraged by what he's seen so far. "We're just working with one another, getting that feeling where we know what the guy beside you is going to do before he does it.
"We've got a lot of things going in that I think could make us successful. We've got to stick to it though, keep pressing."
View photos from the third week of Carolina's organized team activities.