Matt Rhule: First-rounder Ikem Ekwonu has 'a long way to go' to earn Panthers' starting LT job

The Carolina Panthers drafted Ikem Ekwonu No. 6 overall in April's draft, envisioning the NC State product as their franchise left tackle.

Coach Matt Rhule is going to make the rookie earn that job. Through the early stages of training camp, Ekwonu has worked with the second team while Brady Christensen has garnered the starting reps.

"To me, Ickey's a rookie. He's gotta earn everything he gets, and he's got a long way to go," Rhule said Wednesday, via The Athletic. "He does some things really well naturally. 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."

As he's done with the quarterback competition between Baker Mayfield and Sam Darnold, Rhule is making every player earn playing time, including Carolina's first-round pick.

"I don't think it's fair to make decisions about the depth chart unless it's blatantly obvious," Rhule said. "But guys who are battling after a week, you've gotta (get) these guys to settle in."

Entering the draft, Ekwonu was viewed as an excellent run blocker with athleticism and size to be a stalwart blindside blocker. Some believed he could go as high as first overall during the draft process.

As with all rookies, Ekwonu is going through the learning process of transitioning from college to the NFL.

"We've got good players on the offensive line. So we're not just gonna hand him anything," Rhule said. "He's going to go earn it. And knowing Ickey, I think that's probably the way he likes it."

At some point during the preseason, expect Ekwonu to get a chance to earn those starting reps. The Panthers didn't draft him in the top 10 to sit on the sidelines as a rookie.

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