NFL: Panthers' Otah finally healthy

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 2, 2011

By Pete Iacobelli
Associated Press
SPARTANBURG, S.C. — Carolina Panthers right tackle Jeff Otah figured he’d need only a couple of weeks to bounce back from knee surgery during preseason camp a year ago, maybe even in time for the season opener.
Instead, the four-year veteran never played a down as problems in the left knee continued all season long. These days, the 6-foot-6, 330-pound Otah is back, healthy and ready to be the dominant blocker he’s usually been.
“It was very frustrating,” Otah said at Panthers camp Tuesday. “Good thing it was last season and we’ve got this season to look forward to.”
Otah had few positives last season. He and his coaches thought the arthroscopic surgery he had last August would get him back in time for the season. Nothing ever felt right, Otah said, and he was held out of practices. Even worse was what Otah had to watch from the sidelines as the Panthers had one of their worst offensive seasons in history.
“It would’ve been nice to help,” Otah said.
Some even wondered if Otah was simply being too conservative with a minor injury. He was finally put on injured reserve with Carolina at 1-7 and on the way to a dismal season.
“It might’ve been slow to heal, I don’t know,” Otah said. “But I’m ready to go.”
Otah did his best during the long break to strengthen the knee and make sure he’d be ready to go when the Panthers and new coach Ron Rivera opened training camp. He said he knew in the middle of the lockout that his knee would hold up through practice.
Looking to try and look past all the things that happen in the past and get with this team now and try and get better man and get this thing going,” Otah said.
When healthy, Otah has been a critical piece of the offensive line. He started 12 games as a rookie in 2008 when DeAngelo Williams rushed for 1,515 yards and 18 touchdowns. A year later, Otah helped Williams and Jonathan Stewart both rush for more than 1,000 yards.
Minus Otah out last year, Stewart was the team’s top rusher with 770 yards and the Panthers ended with a franchise worst 196 points scored.
Left tackle Jordan Gross said he was glad to have Otah back on the line — and back to his old self this summer.
“I wouldn’t say he was depressed (last year), but it got to him having teammates look at him differently, coaches kind of question where he’s at,” Gross said. “He’s makes outthis whole line better.”
Center Ryan Kalil said the return of Otah has brought an energy to practice that was absent last season. “He really is a game-changing type tackle,” Kalil said.
Rivera is counting on Otah to hold the line and again power the Panthers offense. “He’s a big, physical guy who’s got the kind of athletic ability you like,” the coach said. “He’s got a nice, powerful presence about him and he’ll help influence and impact the way we do things on offense.”
Otah’s made it through the first few days of Panthers camp without problems, other than some shoulder soreness from an earlier injury. Otah was part of most first-team drills Tuesday when the Panthers held a spirited practice in shoulder pads.
No. 1 draft pick Cam Newton continued as the camp focus for the several hundred fans who turned out Tuesday. Newton’s arm strength and speed brought cheers from the crowd and admiration from Rivera.
“Wow,” was Rivera’s first reaction when asked about his rookie quarterback. “He does some things that really light you up and get you excited.”
There workout included the first fight as safety Michael Greco and running back Mike Goodson tussled before teammates, including 5-9 receiver Steve Smith, stepped in to break it up.
“It was fun, getting out there and hitting a couple of people,” Otah said.
Otah likes what he’s seen from new offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski and the incredible talent of Newton. Now, he’d just like to stay in one piece to make a difference this fall.
“We’ve got a lot of good offensive lineman on the team,” Otah said. “The sky’s the limit for us. We can do some big things. We’ve just got to get out here and grind.”
The Associated Press
08/02/11 16:30