I'm attempting to cover the team by unit as a ramp-up toward training
camp; as well, yesterday I covered the ideals of the Vertical Set in
pass protection to give you an idea of what this team's working with.
Clearly, the issues start on the outside, but I want to cover inside
out. That's where the best news is, anyway.
Center gives you Ryan Kalil, a captain and Pro Bowler. Can't ask for
more here. Right now, it looks like '13 surprise Brian Folkerts is the
backup - a UDFA for New Orleans, Folkerts has done a good job staying in
the NFC South, spending time on Tampa's practice squad in '12 and then
making it to camp in Carolina last year. Folkerts played center for
two series against Minnesota, and appeared in ten games total, but was
one of the very few to not be cursed by the RG issues.
Relatedly, the other center, former Kalil teammate Jeff Byers retired
after last season, along with historical backup center Geoff Hangartner.
At guard, the team gets a couple shots in the arm by returning mauler
Amini Silatolu and by drafting Trai Turner. Cut from the same cloth,
these two nasty, large, and mobile linemen appear to be the starters;
Silatolu has played well but has to stay healthy. Turner came out
possibly a year too early, but has first round type talent and thanks to
his LSU background, should be pro-ready. He's a strong guy who plays
angry and appears to be very similar to Silatolu - mobile and unhappy if
he doesn't embarass you - but with more tools to get it done.
The rest gets a little more iffy. Nate Chandler vacates RG for OT,
Chris Scott appears out of shape so far, Ed Kugbila gets his second
chance to be healthy, and it's hard to say if Garry Williams will be at
tackle or guard. Travelle Wharton has, for all real purposes, retired,
Which brings us to tackle, where Jordan Gross retired. Yep, that's four
players retiring on one line. The team put money into returning OT
Byron Bell, and after not drafting a single tackle, extended Chandler,
who hasn't been an offensive lineman for more than a season.
Chandler's initial offensive position had been OT before the need at RG
came up, and solid play at guard gave him first shot at starting at OT.
My guess is, Williams is the 3rd OT. They haven't spoken of Williams'
role, but he has tackle experience. The team lacks anyone else with
much time there, and they have three solid guards if they're all
healthy. Given that Bell and Chandler can both play either side, in
theory, it's easier to have a backup who only plays RT.
I also have to imagine, the team will be looking at cutdowns to find a
good, young forgotten player at OT. I count 8 players I'd expect to
make it, players I've mentioned above - and I don't see anyone else to
really be worth it. Most teams dress 8 or 9, and keep 9 or 10.
They have dark horse candidates to make it - Andrew McDonald has cancer.
Derek Dennis was somewhat well considered in the 2012 draft. David
Foucault is a massive Canadian tackle who can provide some raw talent.
Otherwise, I think Carolina's gonna be in the market for at least one
lineman from cutdowns.
It's not a terrible unit. It would definitely be better had they kept
Gross, or had the money to put into Wharton in a non-emergency form.
But they don't, and they found more necessity to upgrade RG than worry
of the tackle issues. It's a bit of a gamble, one that I think will
improve the running game. Whether it equates to a disaster in pass
protection is harder to say. I don't know if it will be that bad, but
it certainly won't be anything dominating. If the guards are as good as
advertised, the run game should return to a top 7 unit, at least.