Last week, Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera used a word about second-year tackle Taylor Moton that he never had before, at least publicly.
Moton, who started Thursday’s victory over Buffalo in place of the injured Daryl Williams, is one of the biggest guys on the team at 6-foot-5 and 291 pounds. A former accounting major at Western Michigan, he’s among the smartest, too. Both were reasons the Panthers drafted him in the second round in 2017.
But the guy ahead of him, Williams, had a second-team All-Pro kind of year in 2017.
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So Moton was stashed away as an extra tackle and only saw live action in the team’s jumbo package.
And because most of his snaps were in practice, he never really got a chance to put someone on their back. To be a mauler, for real.
Well, not until Williams went down with an MCL tear and patella dislocation at the beginning of training camp and Moton’s number was called. He immediately stepped in for Williams on the first team, and over the next few practices, Rivera liked what he saw from Moton enough to use that “M” word.
“You see him getting more and more confident each day,” Rivera said last week. “He’s a powerful, stout guy. He’s strong. And moves his feet well.
“And he’s a mauler. That’s what you have to be on the right (side). That’s what Daryl is for us. We have a young man who can help us. Every day he seems to be getting more and more confident.”
Moton played the entire first half against Buffalo and held up well against tough, physical defensive end Shaq Lawson.
“I have to live up to (that word) now,” he joked after the team resumed training camp in Spartanburg on Saturday.
“That’s a preseason game. But it’s about doing that week in and week out.”
Moton said he approached the game like he does every other week — only this time around, he got a lot more good-luck texts and calls from family and friends.
“Last year, I know I was a backup. ... But I had to prepare every week like I was a starter because you never know who might go down,” he said. “Either way, I had to be prepared. I had some first-game jitters. But it wasn’t as bad as last year.
“I was really excited to go out there and play another team, show the work we have been putting in throughout the last couple of weeks. ... It was a good starting point. And I know where to go from here.”
And where Moton might go from here is pretty deep into the year at the position.
A source told the Observer last week that while no decision had been made yet, there’s probably a good chance Williams, who will not have surgery, will be placed on injured reserve when the roster is reduced to 53 players. That would allow him to be one of two players to potentially return eight weeks later.
Eight weeks is a long time in the NFL, though. Moton will have to grow up fast.
That can be a little nerve-wracking for a 23-year-old football player, but perhaps more so for the head coach.
“It is a little scary at times, because you wonder ‘Well, who is he coming up against this week?’” Rivera said. “And based on things like that, there are ways to help him, to protect him and make sure we get those things locked up.
“There is some concern. But I’ll tell you right now, just watching Taylor and talking with him, he’s playing with a lot of confidence.”
Rivera added that Moton is handling the new pressure with composure.
“He’s a bright young man,” Rivera said. “Very, very intelligent. He works at it; he gets it. I think that’s a big part of it, because he works so hard. I think that gives him confidence, knowing ‘I worked this hard. I can get it done.’”