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Rookies reach roster

Posted Nov 9, 2011

CHARLOTTE - When rookie defensive end Thomas Keiser crosses paths with Panthers general manager Marty Hurney, he isn't quite sure what to think.

Keiser beat the odds to make the 53-man roster following the final roster cutdown, only to be waived the next day. Two days later, however, Hurney signed Keiser to the practice squad.

So what would be the outcome when Hurney approached Keiser earlier this week?

"I had gone in to watch special teams film with Coach (Brian) Murphy when I was pulled aside by Mr. Hurney," Keiser said. "He let me know that something was going on.

"About a half-hour later, I realized I was going to be pulled up, and I signed a contract."

Keiser and cornerback Brandon Hogan traveled decidedly different paths to the Panthers' 53-man roster, but both are equally happy to have reached their destination.

While the Panthers have long been anxious to give Hogan – a 2011 fourth-round draft pick – a chance to show what he can do, the undrafted Keiser longed for a chance to show the Panthers what he could do.

"It definitely was tough to make the 53-man roster and then be waived a day later, but I was grateful to have the opportunity to be on the practice squad and try to earn that opportunity to be active again and get to play. That's the ultimate goal," Keiser said. "I'm very excited. I'm going to make the best of it."

The latest additions to the roster don't yet know if they'll be active when the Panthers host the Tennessee Titans on Sunday, but it sounds like Keiser could be in the best position. While Keiser said Wednesday that he thought he was better than 50-50 to be active, Panthers head coach Ron Rivera said Hogan "probably" would be inactive.

 "The next couple of weeks, Brandon could get more and more involved in what we're doing defensively and on special teams as well," Rivera said. "He's a tremendously skilled young football player."

No matter what happens Sunday, both rookies have moved much closer to realizing their dream of playing in an NFL game.

"It feels good," said Hogan, activated off the Physically Unable to Perform list have spending the first half of the season rehabbing his left knee. "I'm still learning, but when I was out I was paying attention on the side, so I know most of it.

"I can do everything. It's up to what the coaches want to do and how they want to use me. Whatever they want, I'm ready."

Hogan had to wait a little longer to hear his name called than he thought he might at the 2011 NFL Draft, going to the Panthers with the first pick on the draft's third and final day.

Considered one of the top cover corners in the class out of West Virginia, Hogan wasn't close to healed from a torn anterior cruciate ligament suffered on a punt return in the Mountaineers' final regular season game.

He practiced with the Panthers for the first time three weeks ago.

"When I first started practicing, I was a little bit rusty, but it has gotten better as the days have gone on," Hogan said. "I'm pretty confident right now. You just have to stop thinking about it, get it off your mind."

Keiser, on the other hand, never heard his name called at the draft after making the decision to turn pro with one season of eligibility at Stanford remaining.

The Panthers signed him just before training camp start, and Keiser impressed throughout the preseason.

"If you go back and look, he was our most productive defensive end during the preseason," Rivera said. "That's why we kept him around, and he has earned this opportunity."

Keiser, who could help on special teams sooner rather than later, basically made it difficult for the coaches to ignore him.

"You've got to go out there and get noticed," he said. "When I was on the practice squad, I tried to give the offense a good look while also proving that I can make plays.

"Then in the bye week I got a little more action with the defense and special teams, and I made the most of it."