CHARLOTTE — Very few things have been consistent in recent years for the Panthers’ offensive line.
Other than Taylor Moton, of course.
The veteran right tackle looks around now and sees a lot of new faces, and the kind of talent he hasn’t often been surrounded by. And he knows that changes things here, in an important way.
“We have high expectations on this line,” Moton said after a recent practice, the kind of statement that seems matter-of-fact but hasn’t been the kind of thing they can take for granted.
At the moment, the exact construction of the line around Moton is still to be determined. But with Moton anchoring at right tackle, and right guard Austin Corbett coming in after a stint starting for the Super Bowl-champion Rams, that side of the line looks like the kind of thing they can build on.
And from the middle to the left, the Panthers have more options than in the past, from a center competition that includes Bradley Bozeman and Pat Elflein, to drafting Ikem Ekwonu to play left tackle, and a collection of players including Brady Christensen, Michael Jordan, Deonte Brown, and Cade Mays who could all play a role.
The Panthers went into the offseason intent on improving the line, and the work was done. A first-round pick and a couple of name-brand free agents represented the kind of influx of talent they needed.
“Six years in the NFL, that’s kind of the nature of the beast, right? Moving parts, but it all comes down to how quickly can we mesh and gel together,” Moton said. “That starts in OTAs and I think we’re making progress, day in and day out. So we’ve got to continue to grow.
“We’re focused on getting our line together now. Anything can happen. But the important thing is whoever is in, wherever they go, making sure they’re as confident and prepared as possible when they arrive. I’m just trying to be a better leader every day, and get this ship in the right direction.”
Moton’s been the one steady thing the Panthers could rely on, starting every game each of the last four seasons. He’s bounced briefly to left tackle in times of need, but now Moton gets to work with Ekwonu for the rookie’s eventual ascension to the starting lineup.
Moton said he’d been impressed with the way Ekwonu has approached things so far. It’s hard to get an accurate read on linemen until pads go on in training camp, but his college tape shows an aggressive blocker, and Moton’s seeing a rookie who approaches his education with the same enthusiasm.
“Honestly he’s a great kid, he’s a very hard worker, he wants to get better, he wants to learn,” Moton said of his new protege. “For where he was drafted, he’s got a lot of humility to him, but he’s also got a lot of confidence as well. He’s got everything you want. He’s someone who can grow. It’s been great working with him so far, and I’m excited to continue it.
“He’s the kind of guy you want out there.”
Of course, throwing a bunch of new parts together doesn’t guarantee success. After the Panthers used 13 different combinations of linemen in 17 games last year, change obviously isn’t always a good thing.
But Moton’s also encouraged by the kind of people they’ve brought in. Corbett having a Super Bowl ring helps, but so does being an established starter there the last two-plus seasons. Likewise, Bozeman has started 48 games in the last three years for the Ravens — the definition of a consistent program and a power-running team.
Moton said he’s been learning from both of them this spring, picking their brains about what made those lines so good, and how to work together — and how to create that kind of environment here.
“This year, I’m one of the older guys in the room now, and played enough ball to share my experiences and what’s worked for me,” Moton said. “It’s a daily process of continuing to get better, and really learn how to help others in the room.”