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.
The Panthers will have their first minicamp of the year this weekend, without a lot of noticeable names. In fact, they didn't select a quarterback among any of their draft picks or undrafted signings, which puts a cap on a lot of the actual work to be done.
They're going to get through the weekend by bringing in QB Dalton Bell on a tryout basis, among the 25 or so players who will get a three-day look.
They signed Bell as an undrafted rookie in 2007 but he didn't make the team. He also spent time in Seattle and Green Bay camps, and in the CFL.
--The Panthers haven't signed any of their draft picks yet, but those deals are expected to start flowing soon. The new rookie wage scale has simplified the process, to the point there's little drama in even the top few picks' negotiations.
--In addition to the rookies, the Panthers will have five "veterans" on the field for minicamp who did not earn credit for a season: TE Greg Smith, WR Chris Manno, CB Reggie Sullivan, S Jonathan Nelson and K Justin Medlock.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The Panthers special teams overhaul continued through the draft, and then some.
Without a punter on the roster, they drafted Wisconsin's Brad Nortman in the sixth round, setting him up as the favorite to win the job.
But when Jacksonville drafted Cal's Bryan Anger in the third round and released veteran Nick Harris, it caused the Panthers to reconsider. They brought in Harris to push Nortman, and provide a reliable fallback position.
Statistically, Harris is a middle-of-the-road veteran, not terribly different than Jason Baker. But Harris came in on a minimum wage deal, and Baker's salary cap number was nearly 2 million, explaining the switch simply.
The preference would probably be for Nortman to win the job and make it his own, but the reality is they needed a cheap punter, and Harris would fulfill that requirement as well.
"Nick is a veteran who has kicked well in the league," Panthers general manager Marty Hurney said. "When he became available, we thought it was a good opportunity to bring him in to compete for the job."
Many of the Panthers moves this offseason were made with an eye toward fixing a special teams unit that was the worst in the league last year. They brought in numerous coverage players such as Baltimore safety Haruki Nakamura, and drafted punt returner Joe Adams in the fourth round to try to inject some life into that area as well.
QUOTE TO NOTE
"He's a guy who can come in and be a part of the rotation. He will play both sides of the defense for you. He can play in critical pass-rushing situations, and he can also play on first and second down. He's got the kind of ability that lends to making plays." -- Coach Ron Rivera, on fourth-round pick DE Frank Alexander, who should fit as the Panthers third end as a rookie.