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Bell, Chandler ready to tackle challenge

Posted May 29, 2014

CHARLOTTE – Byron Bell and Nate Chandler have heard the questions, have heard those asking whether the Panthers can thrive next season with two undrafted free agents manning the two tackle spots.

"The question out there is going to be, 'Can he do it? Can he not?' " Bell said. "The only thing I'm focusing on is doing what I'm capable of. I know what I'm capable of.

"The Good Lord blessed me with talents to play the game of football, so I'm going to go out and try my best and do what I can do. Right tackle or left tackle, it doesn't matter - I just want to go out and win football games. Wherever the coaches put me, that's what is best for the team."

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When longtime left tackle Jordan Gross retired three months ago, many assumed the Panthers would look to replace him via free agency. When Carolina didn't, many assumed they'd address the position in the draft.

But when the Panthers began organized team activities this week, there were Bell and Chandler, lining up at the tackle spots.

"I really like what we're getting out of Byron Bell and Nate Chandler, two guys that are competing and are trying to get opportunities," head coach Ron Rivera said. "I'm really pleased with what we're seeing from them so far.

"Byron has a little bit more experience at it than Nate does, but each day Nate just seems to get better and better and improve. He still sees some things that he hasn't seen before, so as far as learning, he's still got a ways to go. But he started for us last year and gave us nine great starts, so I'm excited about what he can do for us."

Over the second half of the 2013 regular season, when the Panthers won seven of eight games, they did so with Bell at right tackle and Chandler at right guard. Their positions along the line could well change this season depending on how things shake out, but they're not concerned about it.

"Me and Byron don't look at it like, 'I'm going to play this position. You're going to play that position.' We just go out and try to be the best we can every day," Chandler said. "It's about getting the plays right, having perfect technique while at the same time making each other better."

At OTAs a year ago, Chandler faced an even bigger change. After seeing limited time along the defensive line as an undrafted rookie out of UCLA in 2012, he converted to offensive line last offseason.

"It's been crazy, but it's why I love playing the game. It's a new opportunity every day," Chandler said. "I don't look at it like there's a position I can't play. I look at it as a challenge to be able to say that I've accomplished something and have been able to better myself as a person and as a player."

Bell knows what it's like to follow an unlikely path. Undrafted out of New Mexico in 2011, he made the Panthers roster out of training camp and suddenly found himself starting in Week 2 against the then-reigning Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers because of an injury.

While leaning on the helping hand provided by Gross and other veterans, Bell took over the spot for good in Week 7. Now, with a move to the left side a possibility, he's again leaning on Gross as well as some guys on the other side of the ball.

"I've been talking to Gross. He's very instrumental in this transition, just giving me tips on how to go about things day-to-day," Bell said. "He was telling me about how going against Pep (Julius Peppers) helped him on Sundays. It's the same thing for me with Greg Hardy and Charles Johnson.

"Those guys bring it every play, so going up against them helps. Every day is Sunday. I'm going to treat it like that."