6’3″, 320-pound Trai Turner begins protecting the quarterback (Cam Newton) and opening swiss-cheese-like holes for running backs today for the Carolina Panthers. (That’s what Carolina fans hope, anyway.) And at just 21, he’s positioned to be doing just that for a very long time. The former LSU standout is coming off a groin injury and may have to split time with veteran Fernando Velasco in the opener–but it’s Turner’s position going forward, if he seizes it. Turner possesses linebacker-type movement, experts say, and great instincts and maturity.
Tampa Bay Buccaneer Gerald McCoy, widely considered the best defensive tackle in the game, won’t be looking to see Turner off to a happy start. Winning Rookie of the Year is certainly a long shot for the 90th overall pick in the draft. But Turner didn’t slip to that number for lack of athletic ability. If he looks good on Sunday against the 6’4″, 300-pound McCoy, the gain in confidence should push him toward the elite status he’s capable of achieving.