SPARTANBURG, S.C. – Rookie mistakes of an off-the-field nature left defensive end Frank Alexander in danger of losing his NFL dream.
But Alexander has been granted another opportunity, and he's aiming to regain the form he flashed as a rookie and become a key contributor to Carolina's defense.
"I'm just grateful and thankful to be back out here playing football," said Alexander, vying for a starting job opposite Charles Johnson. "I've been given a second chance to do what I love to do, and it's great to be able to come out here and get reps but also to just be with my teammates again.
"When you put yourself in position, you've got to gain trust back."
Alexander finds himself in this position after he was suspended for the first four games of the 2014 season for violating the NFL's policy and program for substances of abuse. Two days after he was reinstated, he was suspended 10 more games for yet another test he had failed in June of 2014. He eventually played in one game for the Panthers.
"The low point was when the season started," Alexander said. "I was able to go through camp, so it didn't really affect me until we were getting ready to go play Tampa, and I couldn't go.
"I sat at the house watching the game and cheering them on, but on the inside I was hurting because I couldn't be there. And it wasn't because of an injury; it was because of a decision I made."
Alexander spent much of his offseason in his native Louisiana, training for the upcoming season while also spending time with his two daughters, who have helped ground him.
So far at camp, Alexander has gotten plenty of chances to show what he can do, and he can't wait to do the same come the regular season. A fourth-round draft choice from Oklahoma in 2012, Alexander's best season was his rookie year, when he played in all 16 games and ranked third on the team with 18 quarterback pressures despite playing predominantly a reserve role.
"I think I can be as good as I want to be," Alexander said. "The main thing is to just believe in yourself. I've been playing this game since I was a little kid, and now it's about going out there and achieving goals that you've set for yourself.
"One goal is to get 10-plus sacks and two tackles-for-loss a game. I want to be a better pass rusher in one-on-one situations and be better at the six-technique against tight ends. And for the team, I want to win the division and potentially get to the Super Bowl."