Carolina Panthers

Trai Turner provides healthy protection for Panthers

The Panthers took their first step in protecting franchise quarterback Cam Newton by selecting Louisiana State offensive guard Trai Turner in the third round of Friday night’s NFL draft.

Turner, a 6-foot-3, 310-pound lineman, is young, but he’s healthy. And that’s what counts with the Panthers.

Carolina suffered a rash of injuries along the interior of the line. Fourth-round pick Edmund Kugbila never played a snap, starting left guard Amini Silatolu tore his ACL early in the season, Jeff Byers was rarely, if ever, healthy and Garry Williams was on the injured reserve early in the season as well.

“I just felt like I was ready at that point in time,” Turner said. “It was my dream. I felt I had accomplished what I could at school. Going into this draft I felt I was one of the top guards and I could help an NFL team.”

Turner played just two seasons at LSU, leaving after his redshirt sophomore season. He tallied 115 knockdowns, including 64 in his final season. Turner also had 29 touchdown-resulting blocks.

He ran the third-fastest 40-yard dash at the combine among offensive linemen at 4.93 seconds. Turner also has the ideal arm length at 34 inches.

“He’s young. He’s only 20 years old,” Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman said. “He gives us the power that we’re looking for. He can displace defensive linemen. He’s a tough, nasty kid, he plays that way. He pulls well enough for us. We’re very pleased to get him there.”

Turner especially likes coming to a team that places an emphasis on ball control and the running game. The Panthers finished in the top six in the NFL in time of possession and have more rushing yards than any other team since 2008.

Carolina needed offensive line help after the start of the free agency period. Both Atlanta and Tampa Bay strengthened their defensive lines in a pseudo-arms race for big bodies in the trenches.

Strapped for cash, the Panthers couldn’t afford to purchase big-name tackles or guards and repeated during the offseason the answer could be on the roster.

The Panthers consider Kugbila a 2015 draft pick after knee injuries sidelined him for nearly all of training camp and into the regular season. Kugbila is projected to be Turner’s main competition at right guard with Silatolu reclaiming his spot at left guard.

The Panthers have yet to address the void at tackle. The team will work former right tackle Byron Bell at left tackle to start training camp, and former guard Nate Chandler will slide out to tackle.

Related stories from Charlotte Observer