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Thursday, January 23, 2014

2014 OL - Continuity, or Flux?

Carolina's 2013 offensive line didn't let itself down too often, but
when it did, it really did.

The upside is that potential is high - young players with massive
potential, and enough open spots that they can make real change if they

The downside? There's a lot of work to do. First, a quick thought on
the players that started, and their status:


*Jordan Gross, LT -
Gross was arguably the team's best lineman. He's in Hawaii now, a
replacement Pro Bowler. He's's top rated free
agent lineman, but he's also said he'll play only for Carolina.

*Byron Bell, RT -
Bell can be the team's most crushing blocker at times. He also takes
weirdly deep drops on his pass sets, and he gets abused for it at times.
He's the team's least reliable fulltime starter, but he can be good
enough at times, too. It's a matter of keeping his base under him and
playing with better technique, which makes the difference between
numerous clean games he had and the one that gave Mario Williams 5
sacks. He has one year left on his rookie deal.

*Nate Chandler (RG) -
I'm putting Chandler here at tackle. This is where he was intended to
develop. He got good experience at guard. He seemed to not have many
problems picking it up. He could have more power at guard, but at
tackle his run blocking likely improves (smaller guys, and you can use
contain against them). It's hard to see Chandler at guard next year by
design since there are so many of them below.


*Ryan Kalil -
Can't ask for any more out of Kalil. He's a Pro Bowler again. He has
three years left on his deal, he's still young (28), and the team
doesn't have any reason to worry about anyone else. He may be
restructured yet again next year to lessen his $4.5 million salary. He's
the team's only guaranteed continuity on the OL. Everyone else is in

*Jeff Byers -
Played a couple of snaps at RG before getting hurt, in a summary of how
the team's luck was at RG. He's young, cheap, and a good center, so it
makes sense to have him as the backup.

*Bryan Folkerts -
A surprise camp find, Folkerts was with the team all year and seems an
able center, just hard to say if the team wants to keep 3 guys.


*Travelle Wharton, LG -
He struggled against Justin Smith in the playoff game, but up to then,
he'd provided significantly strong performances, especially against the
pass rush and in his pull blocking. He struggled more in the run game
in 2011 and it makes sense that he was less powerful there in 2013, but
he was steady and works very well in this spot. He's a free agent.

*Amini Silatolu, LG -
Silatolu's definitely what they intended of him at LG, but he showed in
'13 to start out as a question mark after finishing '12 strong.
Silatolu's development has been hampered by two season ending injuries
in a row, which makes his depth critical.

*Garry Williams, RG -
Williams actually looked good when he was thrust into the RG role, to
my surprise. He then immediately got hurt, which was the start of the
RG spot being a black hole of disappointment. Williams is a free agent.
He's been around since 2009, and made over $1 million last year, so I
don't know if they'll go back to him.

*Ed Kugbila, RG -
It's hard to say what's going on with this small school kid. You could
rumor that he's not working hard, he's had a couple different injuries
on the year he's been in and he's hardly practiced. I think they wanted
to push him into RG and let it fly - if you combined his story with Nate
Chandler's, you'd say you have RG covered. Like Silatolu, he's a raw,
young guard with tackle experience who made a habit of knocking over
guys who don't play football for a living.

*Geoff Hangartner -
His most notable achievements came as the goal TE, but he was good
insurance. He didn't make the team and was a camp cut because they
wanted to work other guys in (mission accomplished! seven other guys
played), but eventually returned to be good depth. A free agent.

*Chris Scott -
He's a big thumper. The team plugged him in at RG, and he had up and
down moments, more than Chandler's. He's a free agent, so it's hard to
say what they do there. He's a guy who has that combination of injury
and being out of shape that makes him look better in dire need than when
you have time to plan, so I don't know if he returns.

In my opinion, you have to retain Gross, at least another year. Bell
is a cheap starter. Chandler should be OK depth.

If you can afford it, I'd bring back Wharton, too. Not unlike Gross,
he's the top FA. At 33, he's a guy who probably would rather stay and
he cost only $1.1 million to bring back. You throw Silatolu in at RG,
Kugbila and maybe pickup a random veteran level backup or return
Williams cheaply to compete.

I can see that, if the cost went up on Wharton, it might not be worth
it. It also might be a gamble to throw Silatolu at RG. You have your
three centers, more than enough depth.

So, with the above, I'd be setting the team up to take a tackle in
round 1 or 2. I think that's pretty necessary, and if you spend the
meager amount of free agent dollars on retaining your aging LT/LG for
another year or two, you get the continuity you need and hopefully a
break on the cost.

That lets you address pushing Bell. If you start over at LT with a
first rounder, you can compete there, but you also risk being unable to
address RT.

So with that in mind, I like these guys as late first rounders
(obviously values will change over time; I'm assuming that Jake
Matthews, Taylor Lewan, Greg Robinson all go ahead of the 28 pick):

*Cyrus Kounadijo - this is a projection. I watched Kouandijo last year
and he looked good with the various starters at Alabama that were first
round picks. This year focusing on him more I didn't like how he
looked, but that was in comparison to him as a top 5 type pick. As a
28, if he can show he can play RT, he makes a lot of sense.

*Tiny Richardson - you can't mess with a 6'6, 330 lb guy from Tennessee
named Tiny.

*Morgan Moses, Virginia - Big guy who I think would play at RT but some
feel he can flip back over. He gets to the second level, seems to
understand the angles and seems to play smart.

Second Round:

*Zack Martin, Notre Dame
50+ game starter. He doesn't look the part, he's not 6'6 and 320 lbs
(6'3.75, 300) and his arms are considered short. But he gets it done.
He's not a blue chipper, and as a matter of fact his style looks ugly,
but he reminds me of Gross, and he'll be a guy you can never afford to
get rid of.

*JaWaun James, Tennessee - Richardson's counterpart, more of a LT. Not
really any worse, and on need I bet he goes higher than Richardson.
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