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Carolina Panthers go after bigs again

In Dave Gettleman's world, size matters. It matters a lot.

The Carolina Panthers’ second-year general manager particularly likes to supersize his offensive and defensive lines, and he will throw both money and personnel at both those positions given the opportunity. He proved it again Friday night, choosing a defensive end and an offensive guard in the second and third rounds, respectively.

If you look at Gettleman’s first three picks in 2013 and now this year, you see a definite trend. Gettleman has chosen an offensive or defensive lineman with five of those six picks. The only exception is a wide receiver – Florida State’s Kelvin Benjamin – who is so big at 6-5, 240 pounds that he could be a tight end. It is hog mollie central in Charlotte for the second year in a row.

Gettleman went for Southeastern Conference linemen twice Friday, picking Missouri defensive end Kony Ealy in the second round and LSU offensive guard Trai Turner in the third. He left the gap at left tackle unfilled -- it looks more and more likely that Byron Bell is going to be the starter by default there -- but he may have found an immediate starter in Turner and he certainly found an insurance policy in Ealy.

“We got better,” said Gettleman, adding that the Panthers had a first-round value on Ealy but got him at No. 60 overall, which Gettleman described as a “shock.” He also said Turner could “displace” defensive linemen and coach Ron Rivera said he particularly liked Turner's “nastiness.”

Gettleman is a defense-first guy, a run-the-ball guy and above all, a pass-rush guy. He should have had a cameo in the movie “Old School.” He values draft picks as gold, and he has now spent three first- or second-round picks in only two years on defensive linemen.

Ealy will join a stacked unit. The Panthers' defensive front four may be the NFL's best at the moment and is at least in the top three.

Carolina led the NFL in 2013 with 60 sacks. The Panthers already have Pro Bowl-type performers at both ends with Greg Hardy and Charles Johnson.

Then again, both those guys are very well-paid. Because of the salary-cap implications, it's possible that 2014 may be the last year that Hardy and Johnson play together. Johnson also had some knee issues late last season.

So Ealy is a security blanket. But he was far from an immediate “need” pick.

Offensive tackle was and is. But Gettleman ignored Virginia offensive tackle Morgan Moses at No. 60 -- he was still available, even after several Panther drafts had him going to Carolina at No. 28.

Left tackle was Carolina's most pressing need before the second round began, and it was still the Panthers' most pressing need after Friday was over. But the Panthers had added Turner to a problematic position that kept seeing young, promising players get hurt for long stretches of time in 2013.

It's quite possible that Carolina will take an offensive tackle on Saturday when the draft concludes. Maybe the Panthers will pick up another veteran free agent, too, over the summer.

But protecting quarterback Cam Newton remains a major question mark. The Panthers are going to be well set as far as terrorizing other teams' quarterbacks in 2014, but how safe will their own franchise QB really be?

Let's get back to Ealy, though. The defensive end spent four years at Missouri, redshirting the first one and then playing the next three before declaring early for the draft with a year of eligibility left. He had 9.5 sacks last season in the SEC.

Although at 273 pounds Ealy would be considered very light to be a defensive tackle, the Panthers will look at him “in the middle" as well. Gettleman said Ealy is “not afraid of the big boys.”

Ealy also mentioned Hardy by name, saying he was looking forward to learning from the player who bills himself as the “Kraken."

“The guy is a beast, man,” Ealy said of Hardy.

It's funny to think of Hardy as a role model, but he does like to cast himself in that light. Here will be another chance for Hardy to do just that.

Fowler: 704-358-5140; sfowler@charlotteobserver.com; Twitter: @scott_fowler
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