CHARLOTTE, N.C. — There are an estimated 35 million nomads in the world and while Carolina Panthers offensive lineman Nate Chandler technically isn’t one, he’s certainly an honorary member.
Most football players find a position they’re good at, learn as much as they can and hope to achieve success applying what they’ve learned over the course of years. For Chandler, he’d just be happy playing the same position in back-to-back seasons.
Ever since his freshman year at UCLA, Chandler has basically played a different position every season, including what will be his third season with the Panthers.
Chandler, who stands 6-foot-4 and weighs 315 pounds, is slated to be a starting offensive tackle for the first time in his career, but neither he nor the coaches are sure tackle it will be. This comes after starting six games at right guard, which followed him playing 10 games his rookie season at defensive tackle.
"The coaches have a lot of faith in me going into camp," Chandler said. "They said I have what it takes to be a starting offensive lineman in this league. So, everyday I come out here and set a goal for myself to play like a starting offensive lineman no matter what position it’s at."
For anybody else, it’d be such a unique and odd story about starting out as a defensive tackle one year, switching to starting right guard on offense the next, to potentially protecting the blindside of star quarterback Cam Newton. But for Chandler, it’s literally nothing new.
His freshman year at UCLA saw him play the entire year as an offensive lineman. He was moved to tight end his sophomore year, where he played in 11 games and caught one pass for five yards.
By the time his junior year rolled around, the coaching staff moved him to the defensive side of the ball, where he played in 12 games and started in eight, with four coming at defensive end and the other four coming at defensive tackle. He put together some modest statistics, compiling 21 tackles, one of which was for a loss, one sack, one quarterback pressure, one fumble recovery and one pass defended.
Three years, three different positions. It’s not exactly the way most try to get to the NFL.
He played defense again his senior season with numbers similar to his junior season.
They were less than stellar.
Nonetheless, the Panthers signed him as an undrafted free agent. He spent the first six games on the practice squad before being thrust into playing time because of injuries. He finished with five tackles and one fumble recovery.
But being that he’s Nate Chandler, it was just a matter of time before he was moved to a different position. And that’s exactly what happened during the offseason after his rookie year. The coaches wanted to see if he could play on offense due to a severe lack of depth there.
That was perfectly OK with him.
"In college, there wasn’t a year where I played the same position, except for my last two years," Chandler said. "It’s not new to me. I’m comfortable wherever they put me at — guard, tackle and if they ask me to play center, I’ll give it my best to get the job done there."
Chandler had some success at right guard last year. He also started two games at right tackle and that made the coaches think he might have a future at either right or left tackle. Having played tight end in college, he’s definitely has the mobility.
Now, it’s just a matter of learning what to do.
"Every day there’s a new task that I try to attack and then I’ll watch film and see what I need to work on and make a list and try to come out and fix those things and go on from there," Chandler said. "I definitely feel more comfortable on offense, especially after last season playing guard and playing the games I played. It gave me a lot of confidence going into this offseason knowing that I can play with these guys and knowing I can achieve whatever I set my mind to."
But it’s never just that simple for Chandler.
During OTAs, the coaching staff had Chandler play 50 percent of the snaps at left tackle and 50 percent of his snaps at right tackle, with Byron Bell doing the same.
It’d be hard enough just trying to learn a new position, but Chandler’s having to learn essentially two new spots.
And while left tackle is the glamour and money position, Chandler is more concerned about how he plays as opposed to where he plays.
"Let the cards fall where they may," he said. "Right now, I’m playing both tackles and Byron’s playing both tackles. Where we end up, that’s where we’re going to go and that’s where we’re going to off into the season.