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2013 CAROLINA PANTHERS

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Carolina Panthers rookie Edmund Kugbila forced to take 'mental reps

Untested 4th-round pick Edmund Kugbila forced to sideline with injury to left leg

By Jonathan Jones
jjones@charlotteobserver.com

As the Panthers second-string offense ran situational drills during organized team activities Thursday, three-time Pro Bowl center Ryan Kalil talked to rookie guard Edmund Kugbila on the sideline.

His hand on Kugbila’s shoulder, Kalil told the Panthers’ fourth-round draft pick to keep working hard and take as many mental reps as possible.

“Just soak it up,” Kugbila recalled Kalil saying.

That’s all the 6-foot-4, 315-pound guard can do right now. He missed most of the Panthers’ 10 OTAs during the past three weeks with what he referred to as a sore left leg. He participated in some light drills Thursday but sat out most of the day.

“It’s tough because it’s really about learning the techniques more than anything else,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said of Kugbila missing OTAs. “He’s a bright kid, a smart young man. He seems to be picking the things up well, but until you get to apply what you’re learning, it’s hard to tell where he is.”

The Panthers have slotted Kugbila behind Geoff Hangartner at right guard, where Kugbila played during his final season at Division II Valdosta State.

Kugbila showed versatility at Valdosta State, playing guard or tackle on either side of the line. But the gap between talent in Division II football and the NFL is comparable to the distance between his native Ghana and Bank of America Stadium.

In 32 career college starts, Kugbila graded with an 81.7 percent blocking consistency while 97 percent of his snaps resulted in positive yardage. And even though he only posted 23 bench reps of 225 pounds, he ran a 5.13 40-yard dash in front of Panthers assistant offensive line coach Ray Brown at a private workout.

The selection of Kugbila did come as a mild surprise. Kugbila was the eighth guard selected, but according to CBS Sports, Kugbila was the 15th-rated player at that position.

And last year, Carolina drafted Amini Silatolu in the second round, and the left guard struggled as a Week 1 starter coming from a Division II school before settling into his spot in the interior of the line.

Both Rivera and general manager Dave Gettleman said at a draft day press conference that they believe Kugbila could make the adjustment quickly once he got on the field.

“Guys that we feel can be starters eventually are going to get the opportunity to have a couple reps with the (first string),” Gettleman said in April. “The only way you’re going to find out is if you stick them in there. You’re not going to know. If they don’t play you don’t know. There’s one way to find out.

“The other thing is, when you put these young kids in, maybe push them up a little bit, it accelerates their process and progress because they know, ‘whoa, I got to step my game up if I want to play with the big boys.’ ”

Kugbila, who participated fully in May’s rookie tryout camp, said he developed soreness in his leg over time. Since then he has been leaning on Kalil and right tackle Byron Bell, the two players beside him on the line, the most for advice.

Rivera is unsure if Kugbila will be cleared to participate fully during next week’s minicamp. Kugbila also said he’s learning the Panthers’ playbook “pretty well,” but that he can just do mental reps until the trainers tell him he’s able to participate.

“More than anything else, (mental reps are) learning. It’s being able to regurgitate,” Rivera said. “He’s doing a good job. He’s standing close to (offensive line) coach (John) Matsko or coach Brown, and when a play’s going on they ask him about it and he pretty much has done a nice job regurgitating what he should be doing.”

Jones: 704-358-5323
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