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Panthers plan to experiment with solutions for their obvious problem at key position

·5 min read

Denzel Perryman rolled up to Carolina Panthers training camp with a bit of a problem.

Driving 91-mph on I-85, well over the speed limit, the linebacker was pulled over and given a $350 ticket. He quickly asked his teammates for some help.

“Hey, T-Mo. I might need to borrow some of that money,” Perryman said to offensive tackle Taylor Moton upon his arrival.

Perryman wasn’t the only one approaching the recently inked lineman. As players arrived in Spartanburg, SC. for the start of camp, everyone who saw him stopped to offer congratulations.

The offensive tackle signed a five-year, $85 million contract this month and is now one of the cornerstones of the offense and the team as a whole. More so than ever before, however, the door was propped open Tuesday for Moton to play on the opposite side of the line.

Head coach Matt Rhule and general manager Scott Fitterer shared that Moton will play some left tackle during training camp, as he did briefly during the offseason training program.

“We’ll put him over there. I know it’s a challenge he’d probably like to undertake,” Rhule said. “… We’ll maybe give him some reps here and there and get a feel of who the other four best guys are.”

Moton started two games at left tackle to start the 2018 season. Since then, he has started every game for the Panthers at right tackle. Part of making the decision whether Moton would make the move will come down to the performance by other players at left and right tackle.

Left tackle is one of the most significant roster battles in this year’s camp with Cam Erving, Trent Scott, Dennis Daley and Greg Little among the names competing for the spot. Erving and Scott are both now healthy for the start of camp after missing time in the offseason due to injuries and will play key roles in that competition.

Moton said that he spent time between OTAs and training camp working on the left side, and he likened the feeling coming into this year’s camp to his rookie season when there was uncertainty to what position he would play.

“I went back to my first couple of years when I didn’t know where I was playing and I just told myself I want to be prepared as I possibly can be on either side of the line,” Moton said.

“Shoot, if (center) Matt (Paradis) goes out I’ll be ready to snap the ball if I need to.”

This year, the team is set to continue to the rotating door at left tackle that has been present since Jordan Gross retired following the 2013 season. The concern, however, that would come with moving Moton to left tackle is the drop-off that would come on the right side after so much consistency.

Third-round pick Brady Christensen has been practicing on the right side and could be first in line to pick up Moton’s spot if he moved to the left side. His development will play a part in that decision-making.

There’s a reason why the Panthers pushed to get a contract completed with less than 10 minutes to go until the deadline. Why salary cap manager Samir Suleiman, whom Fitterer gave credit to for his key role in completing the contract, drove 36 straight hours with his dog and wife from their wedding to be in Charlotte to make sure the deal got done.

“One thing I do know is if Taylor is on the right side, he does a tremendous job over there,” Rhule said. “That’s why he got the contract that he got. We won’t want to weaken ourselves. If it improves us, we’ll take a look at it.”

Notebook

Moton may not be the only Panther inking a new deal in 2021. Fitterer said that there are “two-to-three” players that the Panthers are talking to about potentially getting long-term deals done. Obvious candidates include wide receivers DJ Moore and Robby Anderson, in addition to cornerback Donte Jackson. Moore had his fifth-year option picked up this offseason and is owed $11.1 million in 2021, while Jackson and Anderson are both in the final years of their deals.

Unlike some general managers, Fitterer shared that he is open to negotiating deals during the season, depending on the situation. The Panthers still have $24.48 million in cap space this year, per the NFLPA.

While the team dealt with multiple injuries during the offseason program, the Panthers are largely healthy heading into the first practice of training camp. Safety Lano Hill (foot) was placed on the physically unable to perform list but is eligible to be taken off at any time.

Panthers have the third-highest vaccination rate in the NFL

Quarterback Sam Darnold said he spent time this offseason with his personal quarterback coach Jordan Palmer, along with quarterbacks Josh Allen and Kyle Allen, working on his weight distribution and timing.

“For me, it’s about staying firm on both feet and staying strong in the pocket,” Darnold said. “I’m going to do my best to just stay firm in the pocket and make solid throws accurately and on time.”

The expectation for training camp is to see plenty of turnover at the bottom of the roster. The Panthers are prepared to bring in a variety of players, including likely adding some “speed” to the safety position, to get the best possible roster. There are not currently plans to bring in any of the players the team previously tried out, like veteran HaHa Clinton-Dix, but that could change. Adding competition for kicker Joey Slye is possible, but the team was impressed with his work during the offseason.

When it comes to quarterback Deshaun Watson, Fitterer said, “We’re focused on the guys that are here now. We’re going to get Sam and all our guys ready to play. We’re not focused on players on other teams.”

Linebacker Shaq Thompson pointed to second-year defensive tackle Derrick Brown as a player that could take a step this year. Rhule also referenced how Brown is trying to become a better pass rusher, in addition to his run defense skills.

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