Ikem Ekwonu comes into week two of training camp hoping to improve the offensive line for the Carolina Panthers.
The No.6 overall pick in the 2022 draft heads into week two with pads on and is hoping his physicality shows that he wants to improve the offensive line in his first season.
Carolina addressed its’ most pressing concern in an o-line that rated as one of the worst in the league by signing veterans Austin Corbett and Bradley Bozeman. Another key addition was Ekwonu, who was regarded as the best offensive tackle in the draft.
With most of the spotlight on the developing quarterback competition between Sam Darnold and Baker Mayfield, Ekwonu may get lost in the shuffle among all the other offensive guards and tackles, but he is showing an impact on the field, and his willingness to improve.
Arguably more than anything, he is ready for the second week of training camp when it is more physical. In a press conference Thursday, Ekwonu gave his initial thoughts on his minicamp so far and showed an eagerness to move forward.
"I love that physicality of the game," Ekwonu said. "That's one of my biggest strengths coming in here so, when the pads come on, I'm going to be a different animal."
In the battle for the left tackle position, Brady Christensen sees most of the time with the first team while Ekwonu works some as Christensen handles left guard duty. This is primarily because Christensen finished the 2021 season as a starter at the left tackle position.
The rookie said in a press conference Thursday that he spent a lot of time with the veterans like Corbett, Bozeman, and Cameron Erving. It is a lot of moving parts in the training camp as everyone adjusts to new roles, but Ekwonu wants to come in and make an impact.
“I feel like as an offensive lineman, giving up a sack period is something that hurts you to the core. So, I feel like anytime you can alleviate that, anytime you can work towards being the best pass protector you can be, you got to take those steps to do it.”
In the 2021 season Sam Darnold was sacked 35 times in the 12 games played for the 11th most in the league. While that does not sound too terrible Pro Football Focus (PPF) ranked the line 30th. In the grading system used, only Taylor Moton scored above a 70.
While the draft regarded him as the best, and he was a top-10 pick, the status of starter is something Ekwonu is fighting for in his first minicamp.
"Everyone has to earn that right to be out there week one, myself included," Ekwonu said. "Regardless of draft status or vet status, everyone's got to earn their spot.”
As week two of minicamp progresses it’ll be worth watching if Ekwonu makes an impact like he hopes.