There is a void that needs to be filled – figuratively and literally – in the center of the Carolina Panthers’ offensive line.
For more than a decade, the Panthers knew that they could count on All-Pro center Ryan Kalil to not only perform among the very best at his position, but to also serve as the leader of the offensive line group and one of the leaders of the team as a whole. As such, the Panthers have a tall task ahead of them in finding a successor for Kalil, who retired at the conclusion of the 2018 season.
During his NFL Combine press conference, Panthers head coach Ron Rivera stated that the team is looking for their prospective future center to “come in and take over” for Kalil. And in doing so, he espoused confidence in Tyler Larsen, who has served as Kalil’s backup and played multiple games in his stead.
“You are looking for your center to come in and take over, and I think we’ve got somebody there in Larsen already who has played for us, has done that very, very well,” said Rivera. “But we are also looking for a guy that will step up and be the leader in the room – and not just in the position room, but in the (team room) as a whole. You are most certainly looking for a guy with leadership qualities.
“I thought Larsen did a really nice job when he got his opportunities. I felt very comfortable about that. And we’ll continue to look at how we can improve our offensive line. Because as we’ve said before, we’re on a mission to protect our quarterback and to put playmakers around him.”
In the past two months, the Panthers have lost a multitude of players who served as their longtime leaders: Players like Kalil, Thomas Davis, and Julius Peppers who stepped up, took responsibility, and held both themselves and others accountable. And the significance of having to find players who can take over in those sorts of roles is not lost on Rivera.
“Ryan Kalil was a very special player. I was very fortunate to have a number of those types of guys,” said Rivera. “That’s one of the things that has happened with us in terms of the transition of losing some of the veteran guys. The people that we’re gonna have to replace, not just on the field but in the locker room, in the meeting rooms, in the team room, and on the field is gonna be very, very important.”
But with that said, filling leadership roles on the team is a more delicate process than simply designating an individual player as a “leader”. Rather, Rivera stated that one has to look at who a player is and see whether or not a leadership role fits their personality.
“I’m not gonna ask a guy to do something that he’s not capable of doing,” said Rivera. “But at the same time, if I see somebody that can or has potential, I will most certainly talk with them. I think that we as a football team have to find our leaders. We have a number of them already in place that have been leaders for us, but with the loss of a couple of key guys, I think we’ve got to have other guys step up.”