CHARLOTTE – Head coach Ron Rivera stopped short of making a formal announcement about who the Panthers' starting left tackle will be, but in reality, it's just semantics.
Byron Bell started at left tackle in the first two preseason games. He will start at left tackle again at New England on Friday night. And when the Panthers take the field in Tampa Bay for the regular season opener, you can expect Bell to start at left tackle.
"He's done such a good job. It's a fait accompli," Rivera said. "I expect him to continue to play well. He and I will sit down and have a conversation about it. We'll sit down and talk to the coaches and make sure that we're all set, we're all confident, we're all comfortable.
"I have confidence that he can do the job for us. He's really taken some big steps."
This is the job Bell wants and up to this point, he's earned it.
"I'm honored to be this team's starting left tackle," Bell said.
Bell wasn't a high draft pick groomed to one day take over at left tackle. He was an undrafted underdog who's defied the odds, and that's not lost on him.
"I talked to my mom when I got tendered, and we just talked about all the scenarios of how I got here from Greenville, Texas," Bell said.
Bell started 12 games at right tackle as an undrafted rookie from New Mexico in 2011. He was the full-time starter at right tackle in 2012 and 2013.
"I had some ups and downs. Then Jordan Gross retires, and the question becomes who is going to be next up at left tackle," Bell said. "The question mark got answered very quickly, and it's me."
"I feel honored," Bell added. "I stayed the course."
It hasn't been a conventional course, but it's gotten him here. And still, Bell admits he's always fearful of being told his services are no longer required.
"I'm out here grinding every day just to hang around. My biggest fear is getting cut," Bell said. "I feel like if I keep working I'll be here for a while.
"I'm not satisfied with where I am at right now. My pass protection has been pretty solid, but it can be better."
Bell knows naysayers will persist. He knows he still has a lot to prove. That doesn't faze him.
"I don't really care to be honest. The naysayers are going to say what they want," Bell said. "The only people that matter in my life are God, my family and this team."
Bell will focus on blocking out the noise and blocking out the league's premier pass-rushers as he works toward his goal of becoming one of the league's premier left tackles.
"I'm not going to say this is my time, but I'm going to continue to work to let people know that I'm here," Bell said. "I'm trying to get in the top-5 of the league with Joe Thomas and all those guys in the NFL at left tackle. And it starts at practice."