- Associated Press - Thursday, June 12, 2014

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) - Panthers coach Ron Rivera still isn’t sure who’ll protect quarterback Cam Newton’s blindside this season.

But he doesn’t seem overly worried.

The Panthers have been searching for a replacement for longtime left tackle Jordan Gross, who retired earlier this offseason.

Byron Bell, last year’s starting right tackle, and Nate Chandler, a converted defensive tackle, have been working as the starting tackles during OTAs. They’ve been flip-flopping from left to right tackle, depending on the day.

Neither has played left tackle before in the NFL.

Rivera said veteran Garry Williams, who is coming off a knee injury, could also figure into the mix once healthy.

“We’ve not decided on a lot of positions yet,” Rivera said. “The biggest thing we have right now is competition and guys working. … We’ll see how we are once we get into training camp.”

Newton hasn’t participated in OTAs except to throw on the side.

He said he could be ready for minicamp next week, but at the very least should be completely healthy when training camp begins July 24.

“Come game time, it’s no doubt in my mind that every single person will be ready to go. That is what OTAs and minicamp are designed for - to get these guys prepared, to get myself prepared,” Newton said. “When that ball is snapped I have full confidence in Nate Chandler and Byron Bell that they will get the job done.”

While many teams invest millions in protecting their quarterback’s blindside, the Panthers seem to be taking a chance with lower-priced players who haven’t played the position.

Bell and Chandler will make a combined $2.6 million this season.

Both players insist they don’t have a preference on which position they play.

“We’re both getting an equal opportunity to win a job, which is nice,” Chandler said.

Said Bell: “I really don’t care. Either position, wherever coach sees being the best fit for either one of us is fine. I’m just trying to win football games. If that means left tackle, right tackle or on the bench, wherever the team needs me is fine.”

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