CHARLOTTE – Arthur Miley began walking off the practice field at the conclusion of the Panthers' final organized team activity, but then he stopped short.
Before heading inside, he hit the sled a few more times under the watchful eye of his position coaches.
"Just working on setting the edge, on playing physical," Miley said. "Even in your strong areas, you've got to get stronger and better in this league if you want to stay."
Remaining a Panther for the regular season won't be easy for Miley, who is one of eight defensive ends currently on Carolina's 90-man roster. But Miley is determined to make sure it isn't easy for any of his competitors to take a spot from him.
He'll get one more week of chances to impress when the Panthers wrap up their offseason workout program with a mandatory veteran minicamp that begins Tuesday.
"My goal is definitely to make the team and be an impact player," Miley said.
Miley made an impression but not the impact he had hoped as a rookie last year. Signed as an undrafted rookie out of Southern – having picked the Panthers in part because defensive line coach Eric Washington played at Southwestern Athletic Conference rival Grambling – Miley recorded three tackles for loss in the preseason before a knee injury landed him on injured reserve.
That doesn't mean it was a lost season.
"It was a great learning experience," Miley said. "I got stronger and faster, and I was also able to go to meetings.
"I didn't just go home. I worked out every day and went to meetings. I got better mentally."
While Miley couldn't practice with the team, his roommate could. Rakim Cox made a splash last preseason before spending the entire regular season on the Panthers' practice squad, but this offseason Cox and Miley are on equal footing as both battle for limited roster spots.
"We're both developing," Cox said. "Last year, he was on IR, I was on practice squad. We both had room to grow.
"This spring, we've both gotten a lot better. That comes with having a year under your belt and putting in time and gaining experience in this league. You can see it during OTAs."
Washington, too, has taken note of the growth.
"Arthur is making progress, working hard and getting his assignments down," Washington said. "He's really starting to refine his technique, and that's critical in this kind of system to being productive."
Washington believes the friends who are also foes are in position to help each other out, but that can only go so far.
"On the field, we just do our job, and whoever does it better, that's who wins," Miley said. "Outside the lines, we're close friends. We know each other's families.
"We're both out here grinding every day, trying to be here together. One of us might not end up here, but we wish each other the best."
That's a reality in the NFL, where roughly one-third of the players currently on the roster won't end up making the active roster or the practice squad. But it's also a reality because Miley firmly believes the Panthers have more talent at defensive end than most observers realize – a sentiment supported by the personnel department's decision not to draft or sign any players at the position.
"People on the outside aren't here every day. They see the people who play, but they don't know what else we have here," Miley said. "Now we just have to go out and prove we can do what people think we can't do."
View photos from the third week of Carolina's organized team activities.