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Panthers no longer face sense of urgency to draft OT in first round

4/2/2015

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- For those who penciled in offensive tackle as the obvious choice for the Carolina Panthers with the 25th pick of the NFL draft, it might be time to use the eraser.

Tackle no longer appears to be a priority.

Running back, wide receiver and defensive line help might have jumped to the forefront.

Since the season ended, the Panthers added tackles Michael Oher and Jonathan Martin. They also have Mike Remmers, Nate Chandler and David Foucault. Chris Scott also worked out at the position some last season.

Oher, signed after being released by Tennessee, is expected to replace Byron Bell as the starter on the left side. Remmers returns as the starter on right side, and the staff appears comfortable with him there.

The Panthers also like Chandler, who was the starter on the right side before a late-season injury landed him on injured reserve. He was in the mix on the left side during training camp last season.

Martin, claimed off waivers after being released by San Francisco, has started 32 of 38 games since Miami selected him in the second round of the 2012 draft out of Stanford. Most of those starts have been on the right side, but he has some left-side experience.

He at worst adds quality depth.

Bottom line? The Panthers don't have the urgency to select a tackle in the first round.

"I think some of the things we've done takes a lot of pressure off, so when we get into the draft we can abide by what the board says," coach Ron Rivera said last week at the NFL owners meeting.

That doesn't mean the Panthers won't select a tackle if that is the best player available. Oher probably isn't a long-term solution. The thinking could be to draft a tackle and give him a year to develop behind the Oher, who was the focus of the movie "The Blind Side."

But with this group in place there is more flexibility to look elsewhere in the first round.

Even as far down as the Panthers are in the draft, a first-round pick is expected to make an immediate impact. The last four -- wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin, defensive tackle Star Lotulelei, linebacker Luke Kuechly and quarterback Cam Newton -- are the core of Carolina's future.

The tackles available at 25 likely wouldn't make an immediate impact, particularly on the left side.

There are running backs, wide receiver and defensive linemen who could.

That's why the Panthers have visits and/or workouts with players such as Georgia running back Todd Gurley, Nebraska defensive end Randy Gregory, Iowa defensive tackle Carl Davis and Miami wide receiver Phillip Dorsett.

They're also meeting with first-round-worthy offensive tackles, including Florida's D.J. Humphries and Miami's Ereck Flowers. But with what they've done in free agency, taking a tackle in the first round no longer is a slam dunk.