Silatolu adds strength, versatility

Some were surprised when the Panthers went for offensive line help in the second round, but drafting Amini Silatolu was actually a logical move in their eyes.

Some were surprised when the Panthers went for offensive line help in the second round, but drafting Amini Silatolu was actually a logical move in their eyes.

From a deep organizational trend toward maintaining line depth, to the need to protect franchise quarterback Cam Newton, the Panthers saw drafting the Division II guard as a natural fit.

"He's a big, physical guy with a mean streak," general manager Marty Hurney said of Silatolu. "I'm not sure what there is not to like about him."

While others expected the Panthers to draft a defensive tackle or address needs at cornerback with the 40th overall choice, the Panthers zoomed in on Silatolu as a long-term replacement for salary cap casualty Travelle Wharton, now in Cincinnati.

Like Wharton when the Panthers drafted him out of South Carolina, the team thinks Silatolu has the kind of footwork that would enable him to play tackle at this level, but think his athleticism will allow him to become the kind of cornerstone guard their run game is built behind.

He'll have every opportunity to be the opening-week starter at left guard, sandwiched between Pro Bowlers Jordan Gross and Ryan Kalil.

That gives them a 23-year-old to groom between the 31-year-old Gross and the 27-year-old Kalil, and grooves with Hurney's track record. Growing up in the Redskins organization, he learned the need to keep adding stock to the offensive line, and tries to add a significant piece each year to keep it from getting old all at once.

They also traded for a project in former Oakland draft pick Bruce Campbell, and were encouraged by the emergence of undrafted rookie Byron Bell last year. If one of them emerged as a starting-level player, they'd love it, since no one's sure what to expect from right tackle Jeff Otah this year. He's entering a contract year, having played four games the last two seasons because of knee and conditioning issues (which may be related).

But Silatolu will be the key to this offseason's tweaking of the line. Wharton was very good at pulling to lead the run, and that responsibility will fall to the rookie. If he's not ready, they could go with veterans Geoff Hangartner or Mike Pollak, but the intention is for Silatolu to take the job and make it his own for a long time, stabilizing the left side of what could be a strong line.

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