Amini Silatolu couldn’t exactly remember the last time he played right tackle.
When asked Monday, the third-year offensive lineman believed it was at some point during his time at West High School in Tracy, California, but he couldn’t be sure.
The next time he plays the position could be Sunday.
Silatolu is the leading candidate to start at right tackle for the Carolina Panthers against the Vikings this week, marking the sixth different offensive line for the team in as many games.
Whether it’s Silatolu or one of three other candidates at right tackle, the Panthers will take the offseason to evaluate a permanent solution to the position.
“Our team is kind of banged up right now, especially losing a right tackle now,” Silatolu said. “It’s just up to us for the next person to step up.”
Silatolu took the majority of first-team reps at the position at practice Monday, and he seemed confident he’d win the position vacated by Nate Chandler, who went to the injured reserve last week.
A former second-round pick in 2012, Silatolu has played his entire pro career at guard. But he was a left tackle at Midwestern State and was one of the top linemen at the Division-II level.
The Panthers needed a guard and slid Silatolu inside where his 6-foot-4, 315-pound body was better suited.
“Mostly because of his physical and aggressive nature,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. “We thought his athleticism spoke very well, his ability to pull in terms of what we wanted to do with the offense.
“I would think probably going from where he did from playing left tackle, going to left guard suits him better in terms of watching his aggressive nature. He is an overly aggressive player, which speaks well to being a guard.”
With a tackle and center beside him as a guard, Silatolu needed to be aggressive with defensive tackles weighing more than 300 pounds. But at tackle, Silatolu must be more of a tactician facing slimmer, more athletic defensive ends.
Silatolu will be working in more space than at guard, and he’ll need to focus on his footwork more if he’s going to be effective.
Silatolu said the toughest move isn’t going from guard to tackle, though. It’s going from the left side to the right.
The footwork changes because Silatolu has to kick out with his right foot at the snap. He has to turn his hips and body the opposite way when blocking. All of these things will come with additional reps in practice this week, which Rivera promised for Silatolu, Chris Scott, David Foucault and Mike Remmers before making his decision.
Scott is a more natural guard, and Remmers has yet to see the field for the Panthers since signing with the team last month. An undrafted rookie, Foucault has raw potential but has shown he’s not ready to pass block on a consistent level in the NFL.
This season the Panthers’ offensive line has been banged up. Injuries have caused the line to change eight times – and the group has struggled. The Panthers have allowed 33 sacks and are on pace to give up 48, which would be the most since going 2-14 in 2010.
General manager Dave Gettleman did not address the tackle position in the draft or free agency, outside of signing Foucault after the draft. The team is still evaluating Byron Bell as its long-term starter at left tackle, and he’s set to become a free agent at the end of the season.
Before Chandler went down with a knee injury, the Panthers were the only team that started two tackles that went undrafted out of college. Twenty-three of the other 31 teams had at least one tackle drafted in the first round.
A team source said recently addressing the tackle positions, either through the draft or free agency, will be one of the top priorities this offseason.
The Panthers might not have the money this offseason to afford a tackle, just like they didn’t this past offseason. And drafting a tackle isn’t always a guarantee.
Every draft is different, but usually the top-tier tackles are gone midway through the first round. This past draft, the top four tackles were taken by pick No. 16.
If the season ended today, the Panthers would have the No. 8 overall pick with a good chance at one of the top tackles in the 2015 draft. Stanford’s Andrus Peat, Texas A&M’s Cedric Ogbuehi, LSU’s La’el Collins and Iowa’s Brandon Scherff are all draft-eligible tackles who could go in the first round.
But the more Carolina wins in these final five games, the lower the Panthers will pick. If Carolina makes the playoffs, the Panthers won’t pick until at least No. 20, which would likely put them out of contention for a top tackle.
“You’ve got to do it early in the draft, because all the best tackles go in the top eight or nine picks probably,” Rivera said. “Unless you’re able to spend money to go out and get one that’s in free agency. If you’re lucky, it’s there. If not…”