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Breaking down the 53-man roster

Posted Aug 30, 2014

Difficult decisions at wide receiver, along the offensive line and in the secondary highlight a 53-man roster with its share of underdog stories.

Three undrafted rookies, two late additions and two practice squad players took full advantage of their opportunities and earned spots on the Panthers' 53-man roster announced Saturday.

Wide receiver Brenton Bersin and linebacker Ben Jacobs, practice squad members last year who attended the Panthers' rookie minicamp in May of 2013 as invited tryouts, made the team. They were joined by a pair of undrafted rookies from Ohio State - wide receiver Philly Brown and guard Andrew Norwell – in addition to a third player not selected in the NFL Draft. David Foucault, a 6-8, 305-pounder, was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 Canadian Football League draft.

Running back Fozzy Whittaker - signed on the third day of training camp - and guard Fernando Velasco - signed on the day players reported to training camp, also earned roster spots.

Bersin, a Charlotte native and product of training camp host school Wofford College, originally attended training camp with the Panthers in 2012 but didn't survive the first round of cuts. The team invited him back for rookie minicamp in 2013, and he earned a spot on the practice squad last season before taking his game to a new level over the last month, ranking second on the Panthers during the preseason with six receptions for 116 yards and one touchdown.


Here's a look at how each position group stacks up:

QUARTERBACKS (3): Cam Newton, Derek Anderson, Joe Webb

Webb's impressive play throughout preseason had the Panthers considering keeping him as a third quarterback even before Newton's recent rib injury. The Panthers like having him but hope they don't need him in the season opener, with hopes high that Newton will be ready for action.

RUNNING BACKS (4): DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart, Mike Tolbert, Fozzy Whittaker

When Whittaker signed early in training camp, common sense said it was as a camp body to absorb some reps for the group. But Whittaker's relentless running style said otherwise, and now he's on the roster to spell the big three and help on special teams. Undrafted rookie Darrin Reaves showed similar potential but had been sidelined by a leg injury since an impressive preseason debut.

WIDE RECEIVERS (5): Kelvin Benjamin, Jerricho Cotchery, Jason Avant, Brenton Bersin, Philly Brown

If the Panthers had kept six wide receivers, Tavarres King seemed like a strong candidate for the spot, but they simply didn't have room for one more. Brown will figure heavily into the return game – something King didn't bring to the table – and it didn't hurt that Brown hauled in a 53-yard reception in the final preseason game.

TIGHT ENDS (4): Greg Olsen, Ed Dickson, Richie Brockel, Brandon Williams

This group panned out pretty much as expected, solidified by a strong preseason for Dickson - who was coming off a disappointing 2013 with the Baltimore Ravens. Veteran Mike McNeill could never gain enough traction because of an injury, and D.C. Jefferson came on late only to land on injured reserve.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (10): Ryan Kalil, Amini Silatolu, Trai Turner, Byron Bell, Nate Chandler, Garry Williams, Fernando Velasco, Brian Folkerts, Andrew Norwell, David Foucault

The progress shown by Norwell left fellow guard Chris Scott, who started half of the Panthers' games last season, as the odd man out. Velasco proved his value from his first day with the team as a swing man who can play both guard and center, though Folkerts was again impressive enough to maintain his role behind Pro Bowl center Kalil.

DEFENSIVE ENDS (5): Charles Johnson, Greg Hardy, Kony Ealy, Mario Addison, Wes Horton

Like tight end, this position went as expected. Frank Alexander, one of the top performers throughout training camp, won't count toward the 53-man roster during his four-game suspension, after which the Panthers will have a decision to make. But such decisions sometimes take care of themselves, often via attrition.

DEFENSIVE TACKLES (4): Star Lotulelei, Kawann Short, Colin Cole, Dwan Edwards

Another group with no surprises – which is no surprise after one of the NFL's most dominant front sevens in 2013 returned all of its significant contributors.

LINEBACKERS (6): Luke Kuechly, Thomas Davis, Chase Blackburn, A.J. Klein, Jason Williams, Ben Jacobs

The top four were a given, but the decision to keep one or two linebackers among Jason Williams, Ben Jacobs and D.J. Smith was a tough one. Williams has proven his value on special teams over the past three seasons and was all over the place in the preseason finale. In the end, the Panthers kept six players and went with Jacobs - who had all of last season to show his worth as a member of the practice squad - over Smith, an Appalachian State product who had enjoyed some success with other teams.

DEFENSIVE BACKS (9): Thomas DeCoud, Roman Harper, Melvin White, Antoine Cason, Charles Godfrey, Colin Jones, Josh Norman, Bene Benwikere, Tre Boston

A lot of interesting decisions had to be made among this group. Injuries no doubt complicated the decision to waive Robert Lester – who played a prominent role as an undrafted rookie in 2013 but struggled at times this preseason – and the decision to roster Boston, a fourth-round draft choice in 2014 who has barely seen the practice field this preseason. Another good preseason earned Norman another chance, leaving the Panthers without a spot for the other Josh (Thomas).

SPECIALISTS (3): Graham Gano, Brad Nortman, J.J. Jansen

No drama here. Punter Jordan Gay assumed Gano's placekicking duties for the first preseason game but didn't survive the roster cutdown to 75 players.