Panthers look for ways to motivate Otah

Panthers look for ways to motivate Otah

They've waited for him to heal, and hoped he'd keep himself in shape. But the Panthers latest attempt to get something out of right tackle Jeff Otah was evident when they lined him up with the second line during the first week of OTAs.

They've waited for him to heal, and hoped he'd keep himself in shape.

But the Panthers latest attempt to get something out of right tackle Jeff Otah was evident when they lined him up with the second line during the first week of OTAs. They used former undrafted rookie Byron Bell with the first team, leaving the former first-round pick as a reserve.

In one respect, it makes sense. Otah has played just four games the last two seasons because of knee and conditioning issues. So to count on him as a starter requires a leap of faith they're not ready to make.

However, some in the organization think Otah's biggest issue is toughness, or a lack thereof. Many thought he'd have been able to come back more quickly from the knee problems that plagued him in 2010, but he couldn't push through.

When Ron Rivera hired his coaching staff last year, he added long-time war-horse tackle Ray Brown as an assistant offensive line coach, in part to try to reach Otah. The thinking was, the 20-year NFL vet could teach Otah about playing through pain, as he so often did during his career.

But Otah played just four games last year, and when the left knee issues cropped up again, they placed him on injured reserve.

The effort to reach him is for a good reason. When well, Otah has the potential to be a dominant run blocker. Listed at 6-6, 330 pounds, he has the kind of power to anchor a run game (as he did in 2008). But if he's not on the field, his draft status alone isn't going to save him any longer.

That's clear if they're working him behind Bell, one of last year's projects that ended up starting 12 games last season when injuries took out the backups they expected to use.

Teammates say he's been a regular in offseason workouts, and appears to be in good shape.

As if Otah needs any more motivation, he's entering a contract year. If he could play to the level he displayed as a rookie, he could potentially cash in next offseason. But the fact the Panthers aren't even working him with the ones in May should tell you they're taking a cautious approach when it comes to the enigmatic blocker.

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