Carolina Panthers

Could Carolina Panthers’ offensive line ‘catastrophe’ have been avoided?

Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1) will spend the rest of the 2016 season behind a makeshift offensive line that is down to one starter at his Week 1 spot.
Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1) will spend the rest of the 2016 season behind a makeshift offensive line that is down to one starter at his Week 1 spot. AP

Carolina Panthers right tackle Daryl Williams walked out of the visiting locker room at Oakland Coliseum on Sunday with a protective boot on his left foot.

Pro Bowl center Ryan Kalil was back in Charlotte, having skipped the trip to rehab his injured shoulder. Gino Gradkowski, his backup, was on a trainer’s table with ice bags on both knees for the end of the Panthers’ 35-32 loss to Oakland.

Left tackle Michael Oher was placed on injured reserve following a two-month stay in the concussion protocol.

General manager Dave Gettleman used the expression, “position catastrophe” to describe the spate of injuries that plagued the Panthers’ offensive line for much of the 2014 season.

The phrase again fits.

“It’s about as catastrophe as you can get,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said Monday. “I mean, when you look at the losses we’ve had this year. But our coaches will coach up the guys that are available to us.”

It’s about as catastrophe as you can get. But our coaches will coach up the guys that are available to us.

Panthers coach Ron Rivera on the team’s offensive line injury situation

The Panthers (4-7) spent part of Monday working out offensive linemen in northern California for their practice squad. With only five games left and their playoff hopes all but dead, it seems likely any additions to the Panthers’ active roster would be little-known temps.

In the meantime, Carolina will head to Seattle this week with a starting line that includes only one Week 1 starter at his customary spot – left guard Andrew Norwell.

Two other starters have been shifted to new roles: Right tackle Mike Remmers has spent the past two months in Oher’s former spot, and right guard Trai Turner moved to right tackle against the Raiders after Williams left with an ankle injury.

Veteran reserve Chris Scott came in at right tackle, while former practice squad lineman Tyler Larsen took over at center.

Predictably, the group had its share of issues against the Raiders, capped by Turner giving up a strip-sack to defensive end Khalil Mack to end the Panthers’ comeback attempt.

“At the end of the game Trai gave up the big sack-fumble. But for the most part he did a nice job. He was solid. I thought Tyler Larsen was solid, Chris Scott coming in,” Rivera said during a conference call from the team’s headquarters this week in Santa Clara. “There’s opportunities for guys to make plays. Sometimes they’re able to and sometimes they’re not.”

Standing pat

Despite Remmers’ struggles against Von Miller in Super Bowl 50, the Panthers decided to stand pat at tackle.

They brought back Remmers, a restricted free agent, on a one-year tender of $2.55 million. Gettleman then signed Oher to a three-year extension worth $21.6 million that runs through the 2019 season.

What the Panthers failed to do was bring in any proven tackles in the event one of the starters went down with a long-term injury, which is what happened with Oher.

Other than Williams, a fourth-round pick in 2015, the only other tackles on the roster were David Foucault, undrafted rookie Jordan Rigsbee and journeyman Donald Hawkins.

Foucault was cut during the preseason, Rigsbee went on IR with a knee injury and Hawkins was waived last week.

But Rivera defended the front office’s plan at the tackle position.

“Look at the job we got from Daryl Williams. That was probably one of the highlights. We felt good about Mike Remmers being a backup left tackle,” Rivera said. “But at some point you’re not going to be able to find all those types of guys, either. So you’ve got to be able to develop that guy in-house. You’ve got to try to find that next guy.”

Hard to find

Rivera said left tackles are particularly hard to find, which is why the Panthers made extending Oher a priority. Oher played three games before reporting post-concussion symptoms that include a sensitivity to light and other ocular issues.

Neither Oher nor the Panthers has said anything about his long-term prognosis. With Remmers eligible for free agency after the season, the Panthers could be in the market for two tackles.

It’s not a particularly strong draft for tackles, analysts say.

But the list of free agent tackles has some interesting names, including injured Minnesota left tackle Matt Kalil, the younger brother of the Panthers’ center. Kalil, the fourth overall pick in 2012, is recovering from season-ending hip surgery and has said he wants to re-sign with the Vikings.

But before the Panthers get to free agency and the draft, there is the matter of getting through the final five regular-season games with a sewn-together offensive line.

Rivera had no updates the status of his injured linemen Monday. Players are off Tuesday before beginning preparations for Seattle (7-3-1) with practice Wednesday at San Jose State.

“We’ll do the best we can in terms of putting those guys in position and we’ll play from there,” Rivera said. “We’ve got five games left to go. As I said, there’s definitely, most certainly no room for error. Everything’s still possible. We’ll see what happens.”

Joseph Person: 704-358-5123, @josephperson

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