Through almost two decades of taking part in the NFL Draft, the Panthers used a top-50 pick on a defensive tackle just once, taking Kris Jenkins with the 44th-overall selection in 2001. Last month, in their 19th draft, the Panthers used both of their top-50 picks on the position.
While first-round pick Star Lotulelei will inevitably face more pressure and scrutiny, he'll be very much linked both in the immediate future, and in the Panthers' long-term hopes, with 2nd-round selection Kawann Short.
"When you draft guys like that you have an opportunity to keep them together for a long time," head coach Ron Rivera said during the Panthers rookie minicamp this weekend. "They can play together for 6, 7, 8 years down the line and they'll develop that rapport that you see when a group has been together a while."
The minicamp was the first time Lotulelei and Short were together on a field, even though they did connect in February. They were both sidelined during the combine in Indianapolis, Lotulelei with a heart scare and Short with a hamstring injury.
"We both didn't work out, so there wasn't too much to look at," Lotulelei said. "We were on the sideline talking. He was a real cool guy over there and it's carried over here."
It may take some effort to get the low-key Lotulelei to open up. His big body doesn't equal a big personality, but apparently he's found at least one new teammate to help him turn from soft-spoken, to relatively talkative.
"We sit there at meetings and barely say anything. We focus and try to learn our playbooks," Short said. "But when we go to lunch or something, he's talking and he's opening up."
The Panthers no doubt hope their two rookie defensive establish a connection both on and off the field. It's actually one of the more vital things that has to go right for Carolina to get back to the playoffs for the first time since 2008.
Last month's draft strategy was the product of new GM Dave Gettleman's philosophy that good teams need strong defensive lines. They also need to be big, just like 310-pounders Lotulelei and Short. If the two can play well, it'll be a pairing that could help define the defensive line for years to come.
"That's a very good tandem," Rivera said. "I'm excited about who they can become."