Reasons Chandler can succeed on OL

November, 8, 2013
11/08/13
3:30
PM ET
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- That the Carolina Panthers have converted two defensive linemen to the offensive line -- including Nate Chandler, who will make his first NFL start at right guard Sunday at San Francisco -- doesn't sound like a recipe for success.

[+] EnlargeNate Chandler
AP Photo/Brian GarfinkelThe Panthers' Nate Chandler, far right, turned heads in the offseason working on the offensive line.
Had you described this scenario to coach Ron Rivera before the season, "I would have been shocked."

But it's not as unusual as you might think. And Rivera has seen first-hand how it can work.

As a linebacker for the Chicago Bears from 1984-92, Rivera played with two defensive linemen -- Mark Bortz and James "Big Cat" Williams -- who were converted into Pro Bowl offensive linemen.

Bortz was drafted in the eighth round as a defensive lineman but immediately switched to guard. He had 155 career starts and made two Pro Bowls.

Williams was drafted as a defensive tackle and spent his first couple of NFL seasons backing up William "The Refrigerator" Perry and Steve McMichael. He was moved to offensive tackle in 1991, and from 1994-2002 started 134 games. He was a Pro Bowl alternate in '98.

So Chandler and Sione Fua, who made the switch Tuesday after starting guard Chris Scott sprained a knee and backup Jeff Byers had season-ending Lisfranc surgery, shouldn't look at this as a last-ditch effort to stay in the league.

It also speaks to the feelings Rivera has for the players on his roster.

"They're the right kind of guys you want in the locker room," he said. "They're both very smart football players and talented young men. We want to make the most of their opportunity to play."

Chandler made the switch during offseason workouts after the Panthers used their first two draft picks on defensive tackles Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short. He basically was told if he wanted to stay on the team, moving to offense was his best chance.

Line coach John Matsko had his eye on Chandler since last year when the second-year player out of UCLA impressed working as a tackle on the scout team as an emergency fill-in.

Chandler now believes his future is on offense. Fua isn't totally convinced, keeping his locker in the middle of the defensive line where his white practice jersey stands out among their blue ones.

But both believe any member of the defensive line could make the switch if necessary.

"If anyone of these guys put their mind to it, they could do what I'm doing," Fua said.

This won't come as a shock. Defensive end Greg Hardy says he could start anywhere and be successful.

"Have you ever seen me fail?" he asked a teammate that doubted his sincerity.

Moving offensive linemen to the defensive front is another story. Defensive players bring an aggressive attitude that helps in their adjustment when swapping sides. Not all offensive linemen have that.

"My pass rush moves would be the worst you've ever seen," said veteran guard Geoff Hangartner, re-signed Tuesday to provide depth behind Chandler.

He then turned to Chandler and added, "Be honest, how many of us could really play defensive line?"

Chandler responded, "OK, there aren't as many offensive linemen that can play defensive line."

Rivera mentioned two that possibly could in tackle Byron Bell and center Ryan Kalil, but it's not something he wants to visit.

That most definitley wouldn't be a recipe for success.

David Newton | email

ESPN Carolina Panthers reporter

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