Coach Ron Rivera won’t call it a “position catastrophe.”
But after the Carolina Panthers announced Tuesday morning that starting left tackle Matt Kalil had an arthroscopic procedure on his right knee, and is currently week-to-week, they are now missing three starting offensive linemen: right tackle Daryl Williams, left guard Amini Silatolu and Kalil.
The season opener against Dallas is Sep. 9.
In 2016, starting left tackle Michael Oher was in the concussion protocol for the bulk of the season. And the Panthers lost veteran center Ryan Kalil and backup Gino Gradkowski within a couple of weeks of each other. The team had to sign now-backup center Tyler Larsen literally from out of his father’s basement halfway through a 10-day West Coast road trip.
So Rivera won’t call this a “position catastrophe” because, unlike in 2016, there is still time to right the ship.
“That’s the big thing. We’re still in the middle training camp,” said Rivera on Tuesday afternoon. “Now it’s just a matter of time. And we’ll see how it all unfolds. ...”
Kalil, 29, had been dealing with some soreness in the knee through training camp and missed a day in Spartanburg, as well as the last two days of practice. He went to Florida on Monday with head athletic trainer Ryan Vermillion to get his knee evaluated by Dr. James Andrews, and then had the procedure, according to the team.
Williams tore his medial collateral ligament (MCL) and dislocated his patella the first week of training camp, and Silatolu tore his meniscus a week later.
The injuries are not season-ending, with Kalil and Williams week-to-week and Silatolu day-to-day.
“Yeah, I don’t think we’re near (a position catastrophe),” said center Ryan Kalil after Tuesday’s practice. He added that while he doesn’t know the extent of his brother’s prognosis, he imagines a return will be “sooner, rather than later.”
And Williams was actually at Tuesday’s practice working on the side with athletic trainers, a positive step in his rehabilitation.
“Yeah, Daryl is moving around very well,” said Rivera. “We’re optimistic moving forward.”
Or, at least, cautiously so.
The contingency plan
Second-year tackle Taylor Moton will play left tackle this week against New England, while backup tackle/guard Jeremiah Sirles, a free agent acquisition from Minnesota, will start on the right. However, Carolina must carefully balance the snaps these fill-in players will get, because the Panthers don’t want to over-expose them.
“The guy who has been stellar, knock on wood, has been Taylor,” said Rivera. “We’ve been able to move him around and he’s seemed to adapt very nicely.”
Rivera added that he always saw Moton around the building and in the weight room in the offseason, and thinks the time commitment to the intricacies of the position has helped his development.
Moton was drafted in the second round in 2017 with the right tackle spot in mind, Rivera indicated on Tuesday. But the fact that he’s been able to play swing tackle, especially in a crisis, is a skill Moton’s teammates have celebrated.
“We had been working with him at guard a bunch, and it’s been a learning process for him,” said Ryan Kalil. “But this camp we put him at tackle. And it’s like he’s been playing there for five years. I forgot that is what he played in college. You can definitely tell he feels a lot more comfortable at tackle.”
And Sirles had to plug-and-play most of his past two seasons in Minnesota because of injuries to starters. Carolina signed him in free agency this spring because he can play nearly every spot on the line, had a nine starts at right tackle in 2016 and four at left guard in 2016, and knows offensive coordinator Norv Turner’s system well.
“The more you can do, the longer you can stay, right? I just continue to work on my craft, whether it’s guard, tackle,” he said. “Things like this happen. I’ve been on teams when we’ve lost three or four guys to injury before the season even began. Things like this happen, so you’ve just got to make sure you’re prepared and ready when your opportunity comes that you take it.”
Carolina must also find depth at tackle in the free-agent market. But because the options are currently so thin, they’ll likely have to wait until other teams trim their 90-man rosters to the league-allotted 53 players.
They waived undrafted rookie guard Kyle Bosch on Tuesday morning with no immediate corresponding move, so there’s at least one open spot on the roster for a tackle.
“I’ll just say this,” Rivera said of general manager Marty Hurney, “(He’s) busy.”