COMMENTARY| No one will argue that the Carolina Panthers have some solid firepower in their backfield. Between Cam Newton, DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart, and Mike Tolbert, the Carolina Panthers have one of the league's deepest backfields. But time has proven that without a stout offensive line, an entire offense can tumble downhill.
In 2008, the Panthers finished 12-4 and took home the NFC South crown. During that season, Carolina's offensive line set a new franchise record by only allowing 20.0 sacks over the course of the entire season. Their five starters only allowed 13.5 of those sacks. That offensive line group was made up of Jordan Gross, Travelle Wharton, Ryan Kalil, Keydrick Vincent, and, then-rookie Jeff Otah. Kalil didn't allow a single sack through 12 starts, while Gross only allowed 3.0 through 15 starts en route to a Pro Bowl start. The Panthers would go on to finish 3rd in the NFL in rushing with 2,437 yards.
2009 would prove much of the same in terms of rushing statistics, but one thing would change. Even though both Williams and Stewart rushed for over 1,100 yards, the Panthers' offensive line would suffer a loss. After starting the first nine games of the season, Gross would miss the final seven due to a broken leg. After that, the offensive line of 2008 and early 2009 would never be the same.
The offensive line of the Carolina Panthers has been hard pressed to play an entire season without losing someone important. Gross went down in 2009, Kalil went down in 2012, and Otah has missed several starts in between. Along with that, the Panthers haven't had much consistency from any of the backups, except for a select few.
Things could be different for the Panthers now, though.
For the upcoming season, Gross might be looking to seal his career with a winning season that carries into the playoffs. After restructuring his current contract, this may be Gross' last season of football. Going down the line, Amini Silatolu will likely be the starter again at left guard. Silatolu started 15 games last season. Despite penalties, Silatolu showed great promise for the core of the Panthers line. He, along with Gross, should provide a strong left side.
The center position has been one of the best positions for this offensive line other than last season. Kalil has been nothing short of spectacular for this team. Once Kalil gets back on the field, the Panthers offensive line will be better off.
Now on to the question mark: the right side of the line.
Newly drafted guard Edmund Kugbila is expected to compete with veteran Geoff Hangartner for the right guard spot. Hangartner has shown signs of explosiveness but hasn't always been completely solid in his blocking. Between Hangartner and Kubila, though, the Panthers have options for the right guard position. At tackle, Byron Bell is likely to be named the outright starter now with Otah gone. After spending two years filling in during Otah's injuries, Bell has started to come on. Though he has some issues with his pass blocking, his run blocking is one of the best on the team.
The key for this offensive line? Stay on the field. Gaining a familiarity as a unit and playing with each other game in and game out will surely be the difference maker, not only for the line, but for the entire team. The Panthers may lack depth, but this group, filled with some new faces, can work together to propel this Panthers team back to their winning ways.
Matt is a graduate of WVU. He currently covers the Washington Wild Things and Division II sports for Pittsburgh Sporting News, WVU football for Ohio Valley Athletics, and anything WVU related for Pros Report / WVU Pros. You can follow him on Twitter @Welch1048.
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