With Matt Kalil on injured reserve, Carolina Panthers have all but cemented in second-year tackle Taylor Moton as their starter at left tackle for the next eight games.
But on the right side, they might have to get a little creative. And they might need a little extra help, starting with Sunday’s season opener against the Dallas Cowboys.
Starting right tackle Daryl Williams, who is recovering from a torn MCL and dislocated patella, and guard/tackle Amini Silatolu, who is recovering from a meniscus tear, both practiced on Tuesday. It was the second practice in three days for both (the team was off on Monday).
While it’s promising that they’re both on the practice field, head coach Ron Rivera indicated after Tuesday’s practice that they are both still limited as they work back from the injuries.
“We put them through the paces,” he said. “They got a lot of individual work. They got a lot of position work. And then they were involved in some of the team work.
“Again, we’re working toward Sunday.”
Both Silatolu and Williams are evaluated each day by athletic trainers and team doctors, Rivera said, and then tell the staff how much work they can get in for that day’s practice.
If neither can safely play against Dallas this Sunday in the Panthers’ home opener, Rivera said the team has been working through several combinations of players.
“We go out and we put (Williams and Silatolu) through their paces. And every day has been more and more, and it’s been more and more stressful,” Rivera said. “But the nice thing is who they go against in practice. I watched them go against Efe (Obada), I watched them go against Julius (Peppers) and Wes (Horton). ... I’m going to go up and watch today’s practice and get a gauge on it, then I’ll listen to what the doctors and trainers have to say later on.
“Will it affect us? Absolutely. I know (it has been game-planned) and set up depending on how things go, we can go one way or we can go the other.”
Even if Silatolu or Williams returns to man the right tackle position, the team would likely still want to exercise some caution.
That means seeking help from non-linemen.
And as it turns out, Carolina has a wealth of talented young players who are willing and able to lend a hand ... or two.
Progress at FB, TE
Carolina lost former No. 2 tight end Ed Dickson to free agency this spring. Fullback became a question after longtime option Mike Tolbert went to Buffalo before the 2017 season and Dickson saw his role shift to more of a pass-catching tight end with starter Greg Olsen on injured reserve.
That made the development of fullback/tight end Alex Armah, now in his second season, all the more important. And it prompted Carolina to draft No. 2 tight end Ian Thomas, who can block physically as well as be a threat in the passing game.
On Tuesday, Rivera cited the ability of Armah, Thomas and No. 3 tight end Chris Manhertz to be effective blockers on both sides of the center, which is flexibility that is even more crucial with the line under duress.
“That’s exactly what you need,” said Rivera. “You need guys with that kind of ability.”
It will be Manhertz’s first game back after June foot surgery, so Rivera said the team is still working him back as well.
Meanwhile, both Armah and Thomas have proved capable as blockers if needed.
‘He’s always been a physical specimen’
Armah has worked steadily — and largely behind the scenes — to improve as a blocker and learn the Panthers’ system. Rivera said he usually showed up to the stadium each day before even some coaches arrived.
And in new offensive coordinator Norv Turner’s fullback-happy system, Armah has thrived throughout the preseason.
As a run-blocker, he has been particularly impressive, and has shown what he can do to help a line shuffled by injuries.
In Week 2 of the preseason, Carolina’s third-string center, Greg Van Roten, was starting at left guard. He pulled a gap to the right to spring running back Christian McCaffrey for a 71-yard touchdown — with Armah and Thomas sealing the hole.
The play prompted McCaffrey to cite Armah, his roommate on road trips, as one of the team’s “most improved” players.
“He’s always been a physical specimen. He’s always been able to hit extremely hard,” McCaffrey said. “It’s really cool to see him out there ballin’. I know he’s going to have a hell of a year.”