It took nearly 20 years, lasted only one series and came on a rainy night in Jacksonville, but Panthers offensive linemen Matt and Ryan Kalil finally played a game together.
“Overrated experience,” said Ryan Kalil, the Pro Bowl center. “Super overrated.”
He was joking, but the senior member of the Kalil tandem had other things on his mind besides marking the occasion with his younger brother.
“I was more concerned about my footing and getting back into it after not playing since October,” said Kalil, who underwent season-ending shoulder surgery last year.
Matt Kalil was a little more sentimental when discussing the footnote to Thursday’s game against the Jaguars.
“It was our first game together. We would joke about it when I was out in practice or he was. We never matched up,” Matt Kalil said. “It’s kind of cool being in the same huddle as him. It kind of makes it that much realer.”
The Kalils kept it real for the opening series before Ryan headed to the sideline for the rest of the night. But it was a good start for an offensive line that has been mauling opponents all preseason.
The Panthers drove 75 yards in 10 plays and took more than six minutes off the clock before Cam Newton’s 9-yard touchdown pass to Kelvin Benjamin.
Newton’s two completions on the drive drew the bulk of the post-game attention, but it was the eight running plays that had Newton excited.
“That’s Carolina football,” he said. “We can give a lot of fluff every now and then, but to see (the backs) running downhill at you and having our offensive line on the second level ... seeing those guys attack the defense, that’s how we can set the tone. We’re going to need that.”
The offense needed that type of drive after a lackluster showing at Tennessee. But the first-team line has had a strong August, starting with Matt Kalil, the $55.5 million left tackle, and continuing right across the front.
“Having Norwell next to me has been great. Across the whole line we’ve been playing well,” the younger Kalil said.
“I have some things I can work on and getting back to where I want to be. That’s what preseason’s for, kind of working out the kinks, especially being out all last year (following hip surgery) and getting used to that game speed again.”
With apologies to Olivia Newton-John ... let’s get physical
The guys up front aren’t the only guys muscling up opponents.
Benjamin, whose weight gain was the story of the offseason, has been the preseason MVP after showing up to training camp in terrific shape.
Benjamin has eight receptions on eight targets in the three exhibitions, including two for touchdowns. He’s also been banging into defensive backs – before and after catching the ball – and looking very much like someone who wants a big raise and a long-term contract.
“Kelvin’s playing very, very physical. He’s running really good routes, he’s a great target, and he presents a good target to the quarterback,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. “He’s making the catches, and getting up field. He doesn’t waste a lot of steps once he catches the ball.”
Newton has been close with Benjamin since the Panthers drafted the Florida State wideout in the first round in 2014. Newton said Benjamin’s run blocking should not go unnoticed.
“You rarely see premier guys go out and block and be effective in the running game. One of those plays early on (at Jacksonville) with (Jonathan Stewart), he cut back and it would not have been possible if you didn’t have blocking on the second level,” Newton said. “You see Benjie on his route and he tries to stick his nose in there and throw a block. It sets the tone for our team.”
The Dog Pound, non-Cleveland branch
There was a cool moment in the visitors locker room in Jacksonville between cornerbacks Zack Sanchez and Captain Munnerlyn, who grabbed a reporter’s cell phone/recorder and joined the media scrum interviewing Sanchez.
Sanchez had a good week of practice at Tennessee and followed that up with an interception and a pass breakup against the Jags. Sanchez, who had a rough rookie season, told reporters (and Munnerlyn) that the diminutive Munnerlyn has been something of an inspiration to him.
“Cap has kind of brought the dog back out of me. Us being smaller guys, and the way that Cap plays, it’s kind of brought that back out of me,” Sanchez said. “It’s what I was in college and I kind of got away from that last year. ... Cap has really helped bring that feistiness back.”
Munnerlyn pretended to cry at that point, but you could tell Sanchez’s words meant something to him. After Munnerlyn left the Panthers for Minnesota in 2014, Josh Norman told the Observer Munnerlyn had “little man syndrome” and never helped him when they were teammates.
As for Sanchez, the sometimes forgotten member of the Three Amigos corner trio says he has to play with a little more tenacity than James Bradberry and Daryl Worley.
“Being a smaller guy, you’ve got to bring that edge,” he said. “I don’t have the size that (Bradberry and Worley) have, so I have to be a pit bull out there like Cap and Kurt (Coleman).”