New guard tandem has attitude Panthers want: ‘I’m gonna punish you every play’


CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The Carolina Panthers paid big money to a pair of big offensive guards with the goal of fortifying the interior pass protection for Bryce Young.

Panthers general manager Dan Morgan also made it clear he wanted to bring more “dawgs” into the locker room who were passionate about the game and could help make the Panthers’ logo feared again. In Robert Hunt and Damien Lewis, the Panthers believe they accomplished both of the above.

The guard tandem will arrive in Charlotte with strong track records for keeping quarterbacks upright. In 2023 during his last season blocking for Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, the 6-foot-6, 330-pound Hunt allowed the lowest pressure rate (.8) among all offensive linemen, according to Pro Football Focus. Hunt, who missed six games due to injury, gave up just one sack and three pressures in 315 pass-block snaps.

Lewis (6-2, 237) did not allow more than three sacks in any of his four seasons with the Seattle Seahawks, where he overlapped with Carolina head coach Dave Canales and several Panthers assistants.

But offensive line play is more about attitude than stats. Hunt didn’t hear about the “dawg thing” with the Panthers until after he signed his monster five-year, $100 million contract. That said, he believes it’s an apt description.

“I’d like to think I’m a dawg,” he told Charlotte reporters Wednesday via a video call. “But I think I just play the game the right way.”

Lewis put it more colorfully when asked about his approach to run blocking.

“In my head, I’m thinking about, I’m gonna punish you every play. Like I’m fixin’ to set the tone. I’m gonna be this tone-setter,” Lewis said. “So I’m thinking about putting your face in the ground.”

There weren’t a lot of faces being put into the turf at Bank of America Stadium last season other than Young’s. The No. 1 pick from Alabama was sacked 62 times, more than any rookie in NFL history besides David Carr, whose 76 sacks are the most for any quarterback. Defenses sought to collapse the pocket on Young, clouding his throwing lanes and often enveloping the 5-10 quarterback.

Neither Hunt nor Lewis has spent much if any time diving into the Panthers’ 2023 tape, yet. Hunt said he prefers to look forward, including — and especially — when he’s on the field trying to keep defenders off his quarterback.

“I was brought here to play a physical game and also to try to set the pocket for Bryce, and that’s what I’m gonna try to do each day and every day,” he said. “I would never look back at Bryce. I hope I won’t be, anyway. My goal is to try to stop people up front, man. And try to set the line for him, wherever that is, and give him time to throw the football.”

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Hunt and Lewis have experience blocking for shorter quarterbacks in Tagovailoa and Russell Wilson, respectively. Tagovailoa (6-1, 227) had a certain spot in the pocket where he liked to set up, so Hunt said the Dolphins’ linemen would adjust accordingly.

Lewis, who signed a four-year, $53 million contract, doesn’t worry too much about the size of the guy he’s being paid to protect. “At the end of the day, I’ve gotta do my job. The offensive linemen gotta do their job,” he said. “Russ gonna be Russ, Bryce gonna be Bryce. Like I said, I gotta do my job — protect them, make sure both of them guys (are) comfortable.”

Hunt and Lewis met at the NFL combine in 2020, a couple of weeks before the world shut down during the COVID-19 pandemic. Hunt, who played with Los Angeles Rams offensive lineman Kevin Dotson in college at Louisiana, went to Miami in the second round with the 39th pick. Lewis, a first-team choice on The Athletic’s All-American team in 2019, was selected by Seattle 30 picks after Hunt.

During their first swing at the free-agency pinata, the two ended up in Charlotte when the Panthers made a major investment in their interior while shifting veteran guard Austin Corbett to center. Hunt remembers seeing Lewis’ name scroll across the bottom of his TV late last Monday night, about seven hours after he’d agreed to terms with the Panthers.

“I was pretty excited because, me personally, I think a lot of games can be dictated up front, either side of the ball. And that means that they’re definitely trying to take the game the right way,” Hunt said. “I was excited. I kind of texted him, telling him, ‘Let’s go, man.’ I met him at the combine a couple years back and he’s a fine dude. So just excited to be able to play with him.”

It’s cool to be a good dude in the locker room and the offensive line meeting room. But Morgan is looking for something a little less cordial from his players between the lines, which Hunt and Lewis seem to embody.

Lewis developed a tough exterior at a young age when Hurricane Katrina ripped across the Gulf Coast in 2005 and left his family homeless in Biloxi, Miss., for a stretch. Lewis, who was 8 at the time, relocated with his mom and brother to Canton, Miss., where football became part of his healing process.

“Be honest — it’s just an attitude I kept with me ever since I was young when I was in Katrina in 2005,” said Lewis, whose mom was injured when she fell out of the back of a pickup truck as the family was driving to safety.

“It’s just been an attitude saying, ‘I’ve got to get us out.’ I fell in love with the game of football by playing flag football. But I was saying, ‘It’s me versus you. And I’m gonna choose me every time,’” he added. “So I’ve gotta be dominant in everything I do, even if I’ve gotta keep running through your face. … Either way it goes, you’re going down.”

(Top photo of Damien Lewis: Steph Chambers / Getty Images)





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