After quite the eventful offseason, things finally seem to have settled down for Carolina’s revamped offense. Not only do the Panthers now have a new starting quarterback and another weapon at wide receiver, but there was also a major overhaul of the offensive line.
To recap, the unit has lost three starters from last year and the franchise brought in new offensive line coach Pat Meyer. They also traded for veteran left tackle Russell Okung, landed two notable free-agents in John Miller and Michael Schofield and signed four undrafted free agent linemen – now down to three after Fred Mauigoa was cut. After all those changes, Pro Football Focus ranked Carolina’s offensive line No. 17 in the league going into 2020.
Whatever happens during training camp, the five starters up front are all-but-decided. Is there any room for a rookie on this roster, though? Here are the three remaining undrafted free agents who are competing for a spot the rest of the month.
(Photo by Steven Branscombe/Getty Images)
Bowen (6-foot-7, 315 pounds) is no stranger to challenging situations. He immediately made an impact on the offensive line as a freshman at Ohio State in 2016 and was named a starter for 2017, but the standout right guard suffered a horrific leg injury that held him out of the rest of that season and the entirety of the next one, too. After undergoing multiple surgeries, Bowen started 13 games at right tackle in 2019, earning Second-Team All-Big Ten honors and proving his versatility. Bowen has opened up about his struggles, describing how the process gave him a “much deeper appreciation for the game of football.”
If Bowen doesn’t survive the final cuts to make the 53-man roster, he may be a strong candidate for one of Carolina’s four protected practice squad positions.
(Photo by Brett Deering/Getty Images)
Tecklenburg (6-foot-4, 310 pounds) is perhaps the most intriguing of the three. A converted tight end, the versatile guard caught three passes for Baylor in 2016, even converting one of them for a touchdown. After last season, Tecklenburg planned to retire from football until Panthers head coach Matt Rhule convinced him to give the NFL a shot. The left guard and center started the last three seasons at Baylor, where he planed to stay on as a strength and conditioning assistant before Rhule essentially recruited him to Carolina. Combine his multifaceted skill set with his connection to the coach and Tecklenburg has a unique advantage in this competition.
Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports
Horton (6-foot-4, 325 pounds) is the most versatile lineman of the group. Horton transitioned from offensive tackle to left guard to right guard over his five seasons at Auburn, finally settling in as the starter at right guard in his final two. In 2019, Horton was selected to the All-SEC third team and made it onto the Reese’s Senior Bowl watch list. He has potential, but the lack of a preseason schedule really hurt Horton’s chances. Expect him to face an uphill battle to make the team.
Projected winner: Sam Tecklenburg
(Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
We predict that Tecklenburg’s connection with coach Rhule gives him the edge over the others. As far as football reasons go, the Panthers desperately need help on the interior of their offensive line, especially after losing pro-bowl guard Trai Turner in the trade that brought in Russell Okung. Tecklenburg’s experience at center could come in handy if Matt Paradis struggles again and backups like Tyler Larsen and Chris Reed don’t work out. He also provides depth at left guard, which may be antoher problematic position in the absence of Greg Van Roten.