Taylor Moton has gone from loving 'The Blind Side' to being featured there

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Taylor Moton was headed for the stadium after practice, almost clear of the area where players generally are asked to do interviews, when a member of the Carolina Panthers public-relations department approached.

For the second straight day.

"Ah, man!" the 6-foot-5, 325-pound offensive lineman said with a smile.

Moton then quickly turned to a group of reporters waiting and said, "OK, what do you want to know?"

Those who follow the Panthers want to know everything about the player who will protect quarterback Cam Newton's blind side in Friday night's preseason dress rehearsal against New England (7:30 p.m. ET), the player who could open the regular season against Dallas playing left tackle.

Moton moved into this role Sunday when starter Matt Kalil began having soreness in his right knee. It temporarily became Moton's full-time job Monday after Kalil, whose return will be evaluated week to week, underwent arthroscopic surgery.

It's Moton's third position since the start of training camp. He began competing with Amini Silatolu for the starting left guard spot left open when All-Pro Andrew Norwell signed with Jacksonville in free agency. He became the starting right guard when Daryl Williams suffered a torn MCL and dislocated patella.

But none of those roles put the spotlight on Moton like playing left tackle, one of the highest-paying positions in the NFL because that player has to protect the quarterback.

It's such a key role that the movie "The Blind Side" was made about it in 2009 to document the life of former Panthers left tackle Michael Oher.

The movie, by the way, is one of Moton's favorites, and definitely his mother's favorite. She bought him a Ford F-150 when he was in high school because Oher drove that model in the movie.

Moton drove the truck until the engine nearly blew up.

"I have an Escalade now," Moton said. "I still love [the truck]. I have great memories in it, but it was time for an upgrade."

It's too early to tell whether Moton is an upgrade from Kalil, who has struggled to live up to the five-year, $55.5 million contract he was given last offseason by former general manager Dave Gettleman.

But the 2017 second-round pick has played well enough at both tackle spots to earn praise from Panthers coach Ron Rivera, who describes the former Western Michigan star as a "mauler."

"He's made a very big jump," Rivera said of Moton's progress from his first season to his second. "Probably one of the things that's helped him is he stayed around during the offseason and just did a tremendous job being here, working on things.

"Whenever I walked by the weight room to take a look at who was here, he was always there. It's kind of showing, which is good for him."

Gettleman gushed on draft day about how smart Moton was. He loved that the native of Lansing, Michigan, could play guard or tackle. But not even Gettleman probably imagined Moton could move so smoothly to left tackle, a position he barely played in college. And that was mainly as a backup during his junior season, too.

"As an offensive lineman who plays a lot of different positions, if you understand the concept of each play instead of just memorizing what you do, it helps out a lot," Moton explained. "If you understand it like that, it makes the job of understanding the concept a lot easier."

Unlike many left tackles, Moton wasn't highly recruited out of high school. His only big-time offer came from Indiana, so he went to Western Michigan because he liked the location near his home and felt comfortable there.

Now it seems he feels comfortable anywhere you put him.

"You can't just come in and be shocked about it and be nervous," Moton said of playing so many positions. "You've got to be confident. Like, 'All right, I'm playing left tackle. I know what I'm doing. I'm comfortable. I'm excited about it.'"

Though Moton understands the importance of protecting Newton's blind side, he doesn't buy into the theory that the left tackle always sees the best pass-rushers.

"You've got guys like [Denver's] Von Miller who only rushes on the right tackle," he said. "I went against [Miami's] Cameron Wake last week at right tackle. He's one of the best pass-rushers in the game.

"Ultimately, I know [left tackle's] a spotlighted position. But no matter where you're at on the offensive line, it's an important role."

How long Moton will stay at left tackle remains to be seen. Kalil could be back within two to three weeks, possibly in time for the Sept. 9 opener. Williams and Silatolu both worked on the side during Wednesday's practice.

Although no timetable has been given for their return, the depth on the line will be stronger when they do, because players such as Moton have gained valuable experience.

If Moton plays well enough, he'll make it tougher for the starter to regain his spot.

"To see him be able to flex over to the left side has been very pleasing," Rivera said. "If you can do that, that's a big deal."

That also could lead to a big payday for Moton down the line. At worst, it could ease Carolina's need to give Williams a big pay raise, since he's in the last year of his deal.

Moton isn't looking that far ahead. He just wants to do whatever it takes to stay on the field now.

"If that's at quarterback, wideout, it don't matter," he said. "Right now it's offensive line, so I'm doing the best I can to be the best at that."