Carolina Panthers

Panthers’ line protecting well this preseason, even without Pro Bowl center

Carolina Panthers lineman Tyler Larsen started the final five games last season at center and has been the starter for both preseason games this season.
Carolina Panthers lineman Tyler Larsen started the final five games last season at center and has been the starter for both preseason games this season. jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

They’ve been playing without their Pro Bowl center and breaking in a new left tackle, but the Panthers’ offensive line has been pretty solid through the first two exhibitions.

The first-team offense in general was not much to look at in Saturday’s loss at Tennessee. But Panthers coach Ron Rivera said it was no fault of the guys up front.

“Some of the things that happened to us in that game were self-inflicted. We fumbled the ball and we threw an interception,” Rivera said Monday. “I don’t think that was a reflection on the way the offensive line played. I thought the offensive line responded very well.”

Through the first two preseason games, quarterback Derek Anderson -- starting for Cam Newton -- dropped back 17 times without being sacked. And while defenses generally don’t blitz much during the preseason, Anderson says the protection has been stout.

“They were awesome again (Saturday), I didn’t hit the ground one time,” Anderson said after the game. “I don’t know if I have gone through two preseason games in my life and not been hit, really.”

While free agent acquisition Matt Kalil has been solid at left tackle, he’s yet to play a game with his big brother. The Panthers are bringing center Ryan Kalil back slowly from shoulder surgery last year. The older Kalil said at the start of training camp he expects to be ready for Week 1.

Tyler Larsen, who started the final five games last season after injuries to Kalil and Gino Gradkowski, has been the starting center for both preseason games.

“I think he’s been solid. He’s a very smart football player,” Rivera said. “He’s a young player that’s growing and he’s a center for the future.”

Joseph Person: 704-358-5123, @josephperson

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