Tuesday, May 8, 2012
Panthers' pick Silatolu adds nastiness to O-line
Take a look at the first round picks from the 2012 NFL Draft.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Aminiasi "Amini" Silatolu's life changed one evening in late December, though he had no idea at the time.
That's when Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera walked into general manager Marty Hurney's office after practice and was struck by what he saw on video. Hurney was watching film of Silatolu pancaking defenders, and after one play in particular, Rivera was smitten.
"He came down the line and there was a linebacker," Rivera said Friday night at Bank of America Stadium. "He got this guy and ran him to what we call a 'black line,' when you take a guy and he goes outside that black line of the screen, and he was just gone. That was impressive."
Hurney and Rivera saw plays like that from Silatolu on nearly every snap, which is important when grading a Division II player, which Silatolu was. He certainly wasn't facing the same level of competition at Midwestern State that most players near the top of teams' boards played in the SEC, Big Ten and ACC.
But there's a method used when gauging a player from one of the lower levels, and Hurney and Rivera saw enough to draft the 6-foot-3, 320-pound left tackle, whom they project as a guard in the NFL, at No. 40 in the second round.
"When you do look at guys like that, one thing you're always concerned with is at any point when you play at that level you sit there and go, 'Oh, he has moments where he's just a guy,'" Rivera said. "You really didn't see those moments where you felt he was just a guy. He was a guy that was going to dominate the guy he lined up against and he did that.
"He was more physical than the guys he played against. The projection at our level is it should be a fairly easy transition."
It wasn't exactly like Silatolu is a simple diamond in the rough, a player who suddenly shows up on a scout's list of quality players off the radar.
Academics have kept him from experiencing a higher level of football. He played at San Joaquin Delta College out of high school and then signed with Nevada, which had several nationally ranked teams in recent years. He never matriculated there, however, because he failed too many classes and could not get his associates degree. After sitting out the 2009 season, Silatolu, a native of Tracy, Calif., in the San Francisco Bay area, found his way to Midwestern State in Wichita Falls, Texas.
Things then finally began going his way.
"I just wanted to start, just start playing, really," Silatolu said. "I had a great spring over there my first spring out there. I just balled out my next two years."
The Panthers' take on Silatolu is that he's athletic, aggressive, has very good feet, is an excellent athlete, works hard and has the exact kind of nastiness necessary to play along the offensive line at this level.
"One thing I really like that's stands out is his nasty temperament," Rivera said. "When you're playing at a certain level you should play where you dominate, and he did do that. He dominated the competition. So you feel that coming to the next level he's going to be very, very competitive."
Silatolu says he's just playing the game the right way.
"I don't really feel like I'm a nasty player until I actually see it on tape," he said. "I think that's just how I play the game, and that's how I like to play the game. It should be played that way anyway."
Silatolu was born in Tonga but raised in the Bay Area. Tonga is a Polynesian country of 104,000 people and 176 islands in a range of about 270,000 square miles in the South Pacific. It's about a third of the distance from New Zealand to Hawaii. In 2010, 10 Tongans were on NFL rosters.
Many play along both lines of scrimmage. And even though the Panthers needed defensive help, Hurney couldn't pass on the idea of getting a player he feels will enhance the most important part of a football team.
"That is the one spot that can affect your team the quickest, more than any other on the team," Hurney said. "They are responsible for protecting your quarterback, they're responsible for your ability to run the ball. It's very hard to be productive on offense if your offensive line's not good.
"So when a player like this comes up that has all of the skill sets and the attitude and you're excited about him I think you have to take a hard look at him."
And in this case, the Panthers drafted him.