The Panthers are still waiting to see if their trade of former first-round pick Jeff Otah to the Jets goes through, but they’ve clearly moved on without him.
If Otah doesn’t pass the Jets physical by Tuesday’s deadline, he’d revert to the Panthers, but they think there’s enough interest league-wide that they can move him elsewhere if need be. The Panthers got a conditional seventh-round pick from the Jets in exchange, with the condition being that he passed their physical.
The Jets are still expected to give him a chance to pass, considering they’re hoping to find competition for Wayne Hunter at right tackle.
But the fact is, the Panthers were merely sick of waiting for Otah to get well. The mammoth blocker was good when he was on the field, but knee and conditioning problems made that a sometimes thing, as he played just four games the last two seasons.
Now the Panthers are working through a plethora of options at the position.
Former undrafted rookie starter Byron Bell’s getting the first shot, after filling in for Otah last year in a workmanlike, if not exceptional manner. Bell has the size and strength, but his footwork may not allow him to be more than a backup on the strong side.
“That says a lot about Byron, a lot about the confidence they have and we all have in him,” Pro Bowl center Ryan Kalil said. “He’s taken tremendous strides in a short amount of time. We threw him in there, and he wasn’t a highly touted draft pick coming out.
“He’s a physical football player. He’s a big man, and he has the smarts and drive to make it happen. There’s full support behind him, and he’s done a tremendous job for us. He’s still a little in awe of being a starter, hardly used to the demands.”
“A year ago, I definitely wouldn’t have thought I’d be having a press conference like this,” Bell said on the first day of camp, surrounded by media members. “I just thank God.”
The other candidates are Garry Williams and Bruce Campbell, each of them trying to reprove themselves.
Williams would have been the next in line last year, but a broken leg suffered in the preseason kept him from competing or holding down the job.
Campbell, obtained in a trade with the Raiders (for spare running back Mike Goodson), is a player the Panthers think has more talent than he’s shown. The former fourth-round pick played 14 games for the Raiders at guard, but Panthers officials think he was miscast there. They think he has the athleticism to play tackle at a high level, and that’s where he’s getting the chance.
Whichever one ends up with the job, he’ll be insulated with a solid cast. The Panthers kept smart veteran guard Geoff Hangartner to play right guard, and that will help with the transition for any of them.
But with so much invested in protecting quarterback Cam Newton and creating a running game, getting that position sorted out will be one of the main tasks of training camp.
–Wide receiver Steve Smith isn’t afraid of big expectations. He said upon reporting to camp that the Panthers should aim to double last year’s numbers.
“Why not?” he said.
Well, partly because it’s a mathematical impossiblity. They were fifth in the league in scoring (25.4 per game) and seventh in yards (389.8) last year. Doubling those numbers to 50.8 points per game and 779.6 per game would shatter the records of the 2007 Patriots (36.8 points per game) and 2011 Saints (467.1).
–Ryan Kalil wasn’t backing down after buying a full-page ad in the Charlotte Observer promising a Super Bowl win. The ad was more of a rallying cry than a Joe Namath-style prediction, and Kalil knows it creates attention.
“Really, I did it for the fans,” Kalil said. “We haven’t given them a whole lot in recent years. They deserve a better team, and I’m very confident in what this team can do.
“We have the talent and the commitment and the drive to make it happen.”
–Cornerback Chris Gamble was rarely thrown at last year, but still managed three picks, giving him 27 in his career and allowing him to take the franchise’s all-time record away from Eric Davis.
“I feel I could have been better, could have more picks,” said Gamble. “I’m my biggest critic. I’m hard on myself. I want to do my part, but I want to win at the same time. If you win everything is fine.”
–Jeff Otah heading out the door made room for another player coming in. The same day they shipped out the disappointing right tackle, they added wide receiver Louis Murphy from the Raiders.
Murphy was on the bubble there, but he has an excellent chance to be the Panthers’ third wideout if he’s healthy.
Injury problems limited him there, but his size and speed create a chance for the Panthers to open things up downfield. They want to get their yardage in chunks, and Murphy’s proven to be a deep threat when well (career 15.2 yards per reception average).
“I’m excited right now,” Murphy said. “I like this offense. They sling it around and like to go deep, and that’s what I like to do.”
He gives them insurance in case David Gettis’ comeback is slow, and gives them some experience behind starters Steve Smith and Brandon LaFell
QUOTE TO NOTE:
“Our guys have gotten to the point, based on how we finished last season, that we’re ready to take another step, and we need to. We’ve got enough quality football players on this team, enough veteran leadership on this team, that there’s no reason for us not to improve as we head into the 2012 season.” — Coach Ron Rivera, on the Panthers’ mindset going into camp.