Tyler Larsen taking advantage of his chance

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CHARLOTTE – When you're down to your third-string center, it's typically a recipe for disaster.

Instead, center Tyler Larsen has brought stability to an injury-riddled offensive line and performed above and beyond expectations outside the Panthers' locker room.

"It's been an uphill battle," Larsen said of his route to his new responsibilities. "Going from being active to the practice squad, to active again and finally into this starting role. It's been crazy, but if that's your role, you've got to play it."

That list only includes his time in Carolina. After being a four-year starter at Utah State, Larsen went undrafted in 2014 and was signed and released by two different teams before joining the Panthers in January.

Fast forward to December 4, when Larsen made his first NFL start against the Seahawks on Sunday Night Football. Given the circumstances, he could have been forgiven for allowing quarterback Cam Newton to be sacked. Instead, the offensive line refused to allow a sack in that loss at Seattle, one of the most intimating places to play in the NFL. They followed that up by allowing San Diego to sack Newton only twice in a 28-16 victory.

"We take pride in protecting our quarterback, and two sacks in two games is fairly good," Larsen said. "You want to keep it at zero, but we learn from everything that happens, and you just have to carry on from that and always strive for improvement."

Add that effort to the 126 yards the Panthers were able to earn on the ground against the Chargers' seventh-best rushing defense, and Carolina's offensive line looks less like a hodgepodge than the depth chart would lead opposing defenses to believe.

Offensive line coach Ray Brown never saw it that way in the first place. Larsen wasn't simply the next man on the depth chart, but a player that simply needed a chance to show his worth.

"Every career is like a snowflake," offensive line coach Ray Brown said. "They're all different. This is his entry point into the lineup. Unfortunately it took some guys getting hurt, but that's your opportunity, so you just take it."

Larsen was ready for the opportunity thanks in large part to the coaching of Brown and run game coordinator John Matsko, but Larsen's agent plays a role as well. When you're represented by Jeremy Newberry, a man who played center in the NFL for 11 seasons, you've got a valuable resource.

"He calls me every single week and we go through things," Larsen said. "He helps me out with any questions I have, and he's made me a better player since I've signed with him. I owe a lot to him."

Although his season is over, five-time Pro Bowl center Ryan Kalil has played an integral role in the Larsen's progression as well. The example Kalil provided in practice and games, paired with the tutelage from veteran coaches, has yielded a center more than capable of filling in.

"He's finally got an opportunity," Brown said of Larsen. "He was prepared."

Larsen will need to be prepared against Washington on Monday night. The Redskins have already recorded 34 sacks this season, fourth most in the NFL.

The young center will be tested once again.

"He's worked his butt off. He really has," Brown said. "It's hard work bearing fruit. He's going to have a challenge every week, and he's got to prove it."

View photos of the Panthers as they prepare for their game against Washington.

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