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Panthers 1st Rounder Ikem Ekwonu Has 'a Long Way to Go' to Start, Says HC Matt Rhule

Adam WellsAugust 4, 2022

Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

Being the No. 6 pick in the 2022 NFL draft doesn't guarantee Ikem Ekwonu a spot in the starting lineup for the Carolina Panthers.

Speaking to reporters after Wednesday's training camp practice, head coach Matt Rhule said Ekwonu has "got a long way to go" before the regular season begins.

"He does some things really well naturally," Rhule added. "He's unbelievably powerful and talented. But there's a lot to this game. There's a lot of nuances and techniques and all those things. He has a long way to go. He'll get there, but every day he's gotta work."

The Panthers used their top pick this year to add Ekwonu with the hope he could upgrade their offensive line. They graded as the second-worst unit in the NFL during the 2021 season, per Sam Monson of Pro Football Focus.

Ekwonu had a successful three-year stint at North Carolina State. He was awarded the ACC Jacobs Blocking Trophy given to the best blocker and was a unanimous All-American selection in 2021.

The Athletic's Joe Person noted on Aug. 1 that Ekwonu was working at left tackle with the second team. Brady Christensen was playing with the first team.

Given how much the Panthers have invested in Ekwonu, it would be in their best interest if he was able to start right away. But it sounds like the 21-year-old will have to show a lot over the next month to be with the No. 1 unit in Week 1 against the Cleveland Browns on Sept. 11.

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