Panthers focus on rebuilding up front as QB decision awaits

Carolina Panthers

Carolina Panthers head coach Matt Rhule (AP Photo/Mike McCarn, File)

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Panthers coach Matt Rhule and new general manager Scott Fitterer have spent the offseason upgrading the team’s offensive and defensive lines while leaving their quarterback position on hold for now.

Following a 5-11 season under Rhule, the Panthers used the franchise tag on right tackle Taylor Moton, signed versatile free agent offensive linemen Cameron Erving and Pat Elflein, re-signed guard John Miller and added edge rusher Haason Reddick and defensive end Morgan Fox to the mix.

Reddick could have the most significant impact.

After moving from inside to outside linebacker last season for the Cardinals, he had a breakout season with 12 1/2 sacks. He rejoins Rhule and defensive coordinator Phil Snow, his college coaches at Temple, on a one-year prove-it deal worth $8 million and is expecting a big season given his familiarity with the team’s defensive scheme.

“When I was at Temple with Rhule and Snow, I was one of the top guys on defense,” Reddick said. “My number was called, and I still want that.”

While Reddick is listed as an outside linebacker, he said he’s expected to be used primarily as a pass rusher, which the former undrafted rookie says plays to his strengths. It remains unclear if the Panthers will use a 4-3 base defense or a 3-4 scheme this season, but Reddick likes what he sees in Carolina.

“A lot of great pieces came in this year,” Reddick said. “And one thing I know about Snow is he’s going to take the pieces that he has and try to get them all on the field at the same time and create a bunch of mismatches.”

Carolina is still expected to add at least one more defensive tackle to replace Kawann Short and Zach Kerr.

Carolina entered the offseason needing to address the offensive line, and the team has done just that.

Matt Paradis returns at center, and Miller and Moton should shore up the right side of the line. The Panthers aren’t sure who’ll be playing left tackle and left guard, but the hope is that Erving and Elflein could step in and fill those roles.

Both players bring experience with Elflein having started 49 NFL games in four seasons and Ewing 47 in six seasons.

Erving has played all five offensive line positions since coming into the league, but the Panthers are potentially looking at him as a left tackle.

“Whatever the team needs me to do, I will do,” Erving said. “Me being flexible is one of the reasons why I have been in the NFL.”

Elflein has played center and both guard spots.

“I feel like I can play all three of those positions at an elite level,” said Elflein, who signed a three-year deal with Carolina. “But I think this organization is a great fit for me.”

As for the quarterback situation that still may take some time to play out.

It’s been widely speculated that the Panthers have interest in quarterback Deshaun Watson should the Texans make him available via trade. Carolina also has the No. 8 pick in the draft and quarterbacks Zach Wilson from BYU, Justin Fields from Ohio State, Trey Lance from North Dakota State or Zac Jones from Alabama could be in play as a potential long-term replacement for stopgap starter Teddy Bridgewater.

Bridgewater was 4-11 as a starter last season and struggled closing out games in the fourth quarter.

Rhule recently said Bridgewater “is our quarterback. Nothing has changed since the offseason.”

But that could change in the coming weeks.

Along with the moves on the offensive and defensive lines, the Panthers have also added wide receiver David Moore, tight end Dan Arnold and linebacker Denzel Perryman in free agency.

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