Panthers DE Keiser, OT Bell show preseason matters
Go ahead, you try telling Carolina’s Byron Bell and Thomas
Keiser the NFL preseason doesn’t matter.
They know better.
Bell and Keiser arrived at Panthers training camp last summer as
undrafted rookies and heavy underdogs to make the 53-man roster.
Both overcame those odds after strong performances in the preseason
and are now expected to be key contributors for the Panthers.
Bell made the opening-day roster last year, started 12 games at
right tackle and is now viewed as the team’s long-term answer at
that position. Keiser’s relentless motor prompted the Panthers (No.
20 in AP Pro 32) to sign him to the practice squad, where he
eventually fought his way onto the roster and registered four sacks
in eight games as a reserve defensive end.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera said both should serve as motivation
for other undrafted rookies and first-year players who think
they’re facing an uphill battle to make the roster entering the
preseason, which kicks off Saturday night against the Houston
Texans (No. 6).
Rivera reminded players this week that because of injuries the
Panthers used 17 extra guys last season – many of those went to
training camp with the team.
”Right now it’s an opportunity to show us that, hey, if you
have a redeemable quality where even if we let you go at the end of
training camp we can still bring you back,” Rivera said. ”So
they’re not only fighting for a roster spot or a practice squad
spot now, they’re fighting for the future.”
Rivera said the coaches place huge emphasis on games when it
comes to choosing the team’s final roster in late August.
”I think the preseason is definitely huge for guys showing
their value to the team,” Keiser said. ”That was how I became
relevant in the coaches’ eyes last year, playing the six-technique
and knocking the tight ends off the ball. That was the first little
thing where they started thinking, hey, maybe there’s something
with this guy.”
Bell actually missed the first two preseason games last year
with an injury, but came on strong after getting extensive playing
time in the final two.
”I played pretty well in the last preseason game and I think
that’s what saved me,” Bell said.
Not that there wasn’t some anxiety for Bell along the way.
Looking back he acknowledged being a little nervous heading in for
his first NFL action after playing his college football at New
”I was nerve wrecking and, quite frankly, I was a little
star-struck at first,” Bell said. ”But at the end of the day it’s
just football. That’s all it is. That’s the way you have to think
Keiser said he learned a new approach to the game last
On the day before Carolina’s preseason opener, the Panthers
practiced in full pads – something teams don’t do during the
”It was weird for me and I was a little confused thinking,
`Aren’t we playing a game tomorrow?”’ Keiser said. ”So I showed
up at the stadium and treated it like a practice. I just went out
and tried to fly around and make the most of it. I stayed really
loose and I ended up playing really well and figured I was on to
He took that same approach into the regular season when he was
”I look back on my college career and realized I was probably
wound too tight for most of those games,” said Keiser, who played
at Stanford. ”That preseason game just changed my whole mentality
about how I prepared for a game. You want to have that focus but
you don’t want to be too tight. I just said I’m going to play as
fast as I can and know my assignments and stuff will fall into
The NFL has discussed the possibility of shortening the
preseason to two games, although that idea has been shelved for
Right now they’ll stick with four.
Bell said if it ever is reduced to two games it might make it
tough on undrafted rookies to prove themselves to coaches.
”They show what you can do, especially with the coaches who are
making the decision on whether they keep you,” Bell said. ”It’s a
chance to show the coaches what you’re about.”
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