Panthers center Ryan Kalil has to remind himself that rookie guard Trai Turner is only 21 years old.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera has said he’s surprised by the maturity of Turner, who is one month younger than Rivera’s daughter and the first player Rivera has coached who is younger than Courtney.
A year ago, Turner was preparing for his redshirt sophomore season at Louisiana State. Now, he’s running with the first-team offense at Carolina’s training camp, and the starting right guard position is his to lose before he even starts in a preseason game.
“I didn’t know what to expect,” Turner said. “I just knew I was going to come in and work my tail off and wherever the chips fell, that’s where they landed. I mean, I can’t say I’m not happy for the opportunity, but I’m going to make the best of it.”
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Turner has taken advantage of Carolina’s weakened stable of guards. Travelle Wharton and Jeff Byers retired, Garry Williams is recovering from an ACL injury and has been playing more at backup tackle, Edmund Kugbila is back on the injured reserve and Chris Scott is struggling with conditioning.
That’s helped Turner retain his collegiate position, where he started 20 games in two years for LSU and led the SEC with 21 touchdown-resulting blocks. The Panthers drafted him in the third round, with the 90th overall selection, in May.
Kalil has praised Turner since organized team activities in the spring. Kalil said Turner was grasping the playbook well, and reiterated being impressed with Turner’s knack for the game at the start of camp.
“I can’t ask for a better person to be next to,” Turner said. “Some things I don’t know and he’s able to help me out right on the spot. A lot of questions I have he’s able to give thorough answers to them. He’s able to explain why it does or does not work that way. I’m very appreciative of him and he’s a great guy to be next to.”
Turner’s age can hardly be noticed on the field, at least by his opponent.
“I’ve been going against him since spring when he came in,” second-year defensive tackle Star Lotulelei said. “He’s got a real good punch to him. He definitely gets after it, seems like a hard worker, so I think he’ll be fine.”
Lotulelei isn’t the only Panthers defensive tackle Turner sees. With Carolina’s deep defensive line rotation, Turner goes against Dwan Edwards and Kawann Short each day.
As defensive coordinator Sean McDermott and defensive line coach Eric Washington rotate in fresh bodies, Turner has to stay on the field with the offense.
“When you have a six-, seven-, eight-play drive and now Star comes out and Dwan comes in or KK comes in, it’s like ‘man, I don’t get a break!’ ” Turner said. “They come in fresh when you’re tired. But it does nothing but help you prepare for the season and help you prepare for what you’re about to go through.”
At center, Kalil remains at Turner’s left, but the teammate on his right side changes regularly. The Panthers continue to work both Byron Bell and Nate Chandler at right tackle while trying to see who wins the left tackle position.
But Turner can’t point out the differences between Bell and Chandler. The rookie hasn’t been paying much attention.
“I’m kind of a one-track mind on the field,” Turner said. “I’m worried about Trai.”