Protecting Cam no sweat for the Panthers’ ‘Sweatpack’
Taylor Moton has excelled in his first season as the Carolina Panthers’ starting right tackle, filling the void left by Daryl Williams and Matt Kalil’s knee injuries while still protecting quarterback Cam Newton.
Everyone’s heard a few bad nicknames in their time, but ... Sweatpack? Really?
Poor Taylor Moton. “First time I met Sweatpack,” quarterback Cam Newton said this week of the Panthers’ second-year right tackle, “everybody was in the meeting room, and he was just sweating. Bad. Dripping sweat.
“I let him go that day, and the next day I came in, he’s still sweating. I said, ‘Bro, Sweatpack, golly you’re sweating a lot!’ And it just stuck.”
Even now, a year and a half after that meeting, Moton hasn’t been able to shake the nickname. Even as he grew from a fresh-faced secondround pick out of Western Michigan into the team’s starting right tackle, he has carried the moniker with him.
And from the sound of it, it’s not going anywhere.
“I think it’s going to stick for awhile,” Moton said this week with a chuckle. “I don’t see (Cam) changing it, but if he does, that’d be nice.”
Truthfully, everyone calls Moton something different.
Tight end Chris Manhertz, for example, says Moton is the strongest man on the team. Ex-general manager Dave Gettleman called him a “big ol’ hog molly” when the team first drafted him. Right guard Trai Turner simply says he’s “special.” Left tackle Chris Clark, who lives in the condo across from Moton, calls him the team’s “silent foundation.”
It doesn’t matter what anybody calls Moton, though, as long as they acknowledge what he’s brought to this Panthers offense.
Stability. Smarts. Strength. And increasing by the day? Confidence.
“I think game-in, game-out, getting in these situations, I feel like I’m getting more comfortable,” Moton said, “and it helps having leaders building me up, telling me I can do this. ...
“Telling me that I belong.”
‘I’M DEFINITELY NOT SATISFIED’
Moton began this summer initially competing for the team’s starting left guard spot, but when guard/tackle Amini Silatolu and right tackle Daryl Williams both went down with knee injuries during training camp in July, the plan changed. Moton slid to right tackle ... where he remained for all of three weeks.
By then, left tackle Matt Kalil had suffered a knee injury and was placed on injured reserve before the season began. That meant Moton had to shift again from right tackle to left, his third
position in as many months.
Those adjustments took time, but Moton was capable because of the extra work he put in this offseason.
“This past offseason, he was here almost every day,” coach Ron Rivera said. “I mean, any time I would walk downstairs, I’d see him in the weight room working out when he didn’t have to be here — in February and March, you would see him. And he was just here, working out and just having a good time.
“So you could see that he was really serious and focused in on developing himself.”
Of course, that shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to anyone around the team who really knows him.
Even with his natural gifts — his 6-foot-5, 325pound frame and all the raw strength that comes with it — Moton was still a relatively green prospect when the team drafted him out of Western Michigan. He started all 52 games he played in college, setting a school record in the process, but still needed time to acclimate to the professional game.
Moton spent most of last season as the Panthers’ swing tackle and extra lineman in jumbo packages. But this offseason, he wanted to expedite that growth process.
Cue those February and March lifting sessions.
“My rookie year, I didn’t really know what to expect, so I was just like, ‘Can’t just freak out,’” Moton said. “So I just told myself to take it one day at a time and whatever comes, comes.
“I’m definitely not satisfied with where I’m at. Just want to make sure I build on it and just become the best player I can be.”
‘THE LIGHT BULB WENT ON’
Those springtime mornings spent lifting paid dividends this summer.
Moton was physically stronger during April and May workouts with the team, but he also proved something important to Rivera and run game coordinator John Matsko.
“We were concerned that he may only really be a right tackle player,” Rivera said, “but then Coach Matsko started moving him from right side to left side, to inside-out, outside-in, and you saw a lot more of that ( positional versatility).
“You started to see the confidence build.”
Moton stayed on the left side whenWilliams returned and started the team’s season-opener against Dallas. But when Williams went down with an injury to the same knee in the fourth quarter, that shifted Moton back to right tackle. Then the team signed Clark as a free agent the next week, finally locking Moton into one position.
And since then, he’s run with it.
“After Daryl had the knee injury, we moved him over there,” Rivera said, “it was like something went off. The light bulb went on.”
Pro Football Focus, a football analysis site, named Moton to its All-Pro team for the first quarter of the season. Through Week 6, Moton allowed just one quarterback pressure every 91 snaps, best in the league for tackles with at least 200 snaps.
“I tell him every game, ‘Man, you something special,’” Clark, an 11-year NFL veteran, said of Moton. “To see a guy that young, that understands and has the discipline? He’s going to play this game a long time.”
‘AN EXCLAMATION POINT OF THE IMPACT’ HE’S HAD
This week figures to be Moton’s toughest matchup as a starter. The Baltimore Ravens have the league’s No. 1 overall defense in terms of points allowed, yards allowed, and sacks. Veteran Terrell Suggs, with 131 career sacks, will be bearing down on Moton all afternoon.
It’s about as big a challenge as Moton could ask for.
But Moton said he isn’t thinking about the reputation of his incoming opponent.
“I pay attention to the situation, what’s going on, then just listen to what play is called, and then I just stay in that realm right there, doing my job,” Moton said. “My sole focus is that play, that moment right there. And that’s all that matters.”
Newton said this week he isn’t particularly concerned about what gets Moton going, so long as he keeps up the level of play he’s been at all season.
“He stepped into a role that was a question mark, and now it’s an exclamation point of the impact that he’s been making,” Newton said. “I don’t know if he’s playing within himself, but he’s playing with a lot of confidence that a lot of people are relying on him, and knowing that no match-up is in favor of the opposing team, he’s going to do his job.
“He’s very coachable, he listens, and takes heed to what he’s supposed to do. And if he doesn’t know, he’s going to ask, and that’s what I don’t have a problem with. I tease him a lot, but he knows me enough by now that ... as much success as he wants for himself, I want for him as well.”
Moton’s hard work is the reason he’s in this position. He has groomed himself, through discipline and intelligence, into a starting right tackle in just his second year in the NFL.
It’s also evident, from the way everyone in the locker room jokes with him, that his older teammates have quickly come to accept Moton for who he is.
“I always tease him with how he talks,” Newton said jokingly of Moton’s kindly Midwestern accent, “but that’s neither here nor there.”
So, all that said, is there anything else people should know about him?
“Nope,” Moton says with a toothy smile. “Nothing at all.”
All right, Sweatpack. Whatever you say.
Carolina Panthers offensive tackle Taylor Moton (72), working against offensive guard Taylor Hearn (62), finds his confidence is growing.
Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, center, follows his blocker, tackle Taylor Moton, right, on a run up the middle against Washington on Oct. 14.