SPARTANBURG, S.C. – Of course the Panthers would love undrafted rookie Brendan Mahon to develop into that type of offensive lineman that 2014 non-draftee Andrew Norwell developed into.
They just don't want it to be as a part of a developing story.
Amini Silatolu, the leading candidate to take over the left guard spot vacated by Norwell via free agency, left early in practice Tuesday and was later diagnosed with a torn meniscus that will be evaluated on a "week-to-week basis."
"We'll just be patient and see what happens and keep our fingers crossed for Amini," head coach Ron RIvera said after Tuesday's practice, before learning of Silatolu''s diagnosis. "We have solid depth including a couple of young guys we have high hopes for."
Mahon, a versatile rookie out of Penn State signed as a guard, took over Silatolu's first-team reps Tuesday and now appears likely to start in Thursday's preseason opener at the Buffalo Bills. In the middle of the 2014 season, when Silatolu (a 2012 second-round draft choice) missed three games with a knee injury, Norwell stepped in and didn't step back out until he signed a lucrative free agent deal with the Jaguars this offseason.
"He's a great player and he deserves everything he's gotten. My goal is to be just as good and to strive to play like him," Mahon said. "The sky is the limit."
That's a great attitude for a rookie, but the Panthers don't want to put their hopes for Mahon truly to the test any earlier than necessary. He wasn't on the radar originally to replace Norwell at the start of camp, but he has impressed. And he was further pressed into action by Silatolu's absence and the need to shift 2017 second-round pick Taylor Moton to starting right tackle when Daryl Williams suffered a knee injury earlier in camp.
"I'm really happy for the opportunity," Mahon said. "I'm just going to keep working really hard and listening to everything Coach (John) Matsko and everyone around me has to say because that room has a ton of experience."
Mahon has a ton of experience on the college level and at multiple positions, having started everywhere along the offensive front except center over the course of 41 starts at Penn State. He – like Norwell coming out of Ohio State four years ago – seemed worthy of a draft-day call, it didn't happen.
"We kept an eye on him, and in the end when he didn't get drafted and we got into rookie free agency, he was our first call," Rivera said. "We got on him early and stayed on him."
Mahon said the only explanation he got for not being drafted was that he had some injury issues a couple of years ago.
"I really can't worry about that now," Mahon said. "I'm happy where I am and happy for the opportunity, and it's just about proving everyone else wrong and really thanking this team for the opportunity.
"I kind of had a feeling I was going to end up here throughout the draft just from having conversations with the staff here. When I got that call, I was extremely happy. I'm happy to be here."