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"OK, he's about to bring it." Nash Jensen's debut earned attention 

Nash Jensen

CHARLOTTE — In the short time the Panthers have had to get to know rookie guard Nash Jensen, they've figured out a few things about him.

He's not going to say much, he's going to show up, and when it's time to go, it might look a little scary.

So when he took the field for his first offensive snap in the NFL last week against the Titans, those around him sensed he was ready for the moment.

"You could see that look in his eye, like, 'Oh, he is on one,'" blocking tight end Ian Thomas said. "You see that frown on Nash; he's ready to go. I mean, that's a plus for us.

"Like he's ready. You know how you look at some guys, and you're like, well, he's second-guessing what he has to do. You look at him, and you're like, 'OK, he's about to bring it.'"

That kind of intensity is one of the hallmarks of Jensen's play. He arrived here in as unheralded a manner as you could, undrafted from North Dakota State. Easy to overlook, especially when players are running around in shorts all summer. But even then, line coach James Campen said: "Wait until you see this one in pads," setting the stage for what he thought might be a breakthrough camp. But just when Jensen was starting to get reps with the ones in Spartanburg, a back issue kept him out for some key preseason time, and the chance to be the first fill-in for Austin Corbett dissipated.

But he had made an impression on the guys he practiced against. Defensive end Derrick Brown is a man of few words, but he acknowledged that Jensen got everyone's attention early.

"He's good," Brown said with a nod. "He's a young guy that is anxious to learn, I mean, learn how to be great. He shows up. He works hard every day and does what they ask him to do.

"From Day 1, I mean, I liked Nash, man. He was a guy who, unfortunately, had an injury early on, so they didn't really know what he could do. But then when he finally got back, I mean, he was the guy that proved himself day in and day out for us."

Table inside Article
Player Snaps at RG Now
Calvin Throckmorton 311 (41.0%) Titans backup
Austin Corbett 257 (33.9) Injured reserve
Chandler Zavala 77 (10.2%) Injured reserve
Cade Mays 71 (9.4%) On roster, practicing
Nash Jensen 26 (3.4%) On roster, practicing
Brett Toth 13 (1.7%) On roster, practicing
Justin McCray 4 (0.5%) Practice squad

Once the season starts, there's little time for development since there's an urgent matter every seven days. So, Jensen didn't get many chances. He was active for four games (since so many other people were injured) when he got to be part of the field goal unit, but he didn't get into a game for an offensive play until Cade Mays went down with an ankle injury last week. Mays was only in the game because left guard Chandler Zavala left with a knee injury, and starting right guard Brett Toth slid to the left. Such shuffling has become commonplace, as Jensen became the seventh player to take snaps at right guard for the Panthers this season.

Since he was the last of the active interior reserves last week, nobody had to tell him to get in there, either.

"As soon as I saw Cade rolling around, I just started walking on the field as soon as it was like, all right, let's get to work," Jensen said.

Of course, he wasn't walking into a very comfortable situation. The Titans have a bully of a defensive line led by Jeffery Simmons, a two-time All-Pro who earned a four-year, $94 million contract extension this offseason. Welcome to the league, rookie.

Center Bradley Bozeman did his best to ease his nerves and help him out, but it was time for Jensen to do the thing they were only guessing that he might be able to do.

"Really, it took one snap," Jensen said. "Once I got into the huddle, Boze just kind of calmed me down. He was like, hey, get this first one out. He was nice enough to send the slide to me on pass protection.

"But yeah, after that first play, it was all the jitters, especially going against a guy like Jeffrey Simmons, they were gone."

Nash Jensen

When you're playing against a player of Simmons caliber, you're obviously focused on doing your job. But there's also something in you that knows you also don't want to get yourself embarrassed. Simmons is a guy who can do that. But in those 26 snaps, he didn't do that to Jensen, and there were a couple of times Simmons ended up on the ground with a large rookie from North Dakota State on top of him.

"I think I got him down on the ground once or twice, and I was living on the adrenaline from that for like three hours after the game," Jensen said with a grin. "I'm just like, I just went out and didn't allow a sack by a $90 million tackle. So I've just got to carry that into these next few weeks here."

Again, nothing about this situation is by design. The Panthers have been crushed by guard injuries this season. The projected starters — Brady Christensen and Corbett — played a combined five games this year. This was not the plan.

So now Jensen's up and getting his chance. It's not an ideal situation, but they have as much trust as you can have in a guy as this scenario allows.

"Nash played a really good game," Bozeman said, perking up at the topic (since it's better than many of the other questions this week). You know, first opportunity in there, and he really made the best of it. It was good to see him because he's been working his ass off, he's worked his ass off this entire time. He's been doing the little things, right? Just continuing to work, no matter whether he was dressed out or not. He's always been locked in. To see him go in there and have that opportunity and be successful. It's always a great thing for young guys to get those opportunities."

Nash Jensen

When a player knows he's probably not going to be active that week (as Jensen was for a month), there's perhaps a natural inclination to ease back on the throttle. But that's not his style.

"One of the hardest things when you're kind of in that position is the game plan," Bozeman said. "Sometimes you really pay attention to it, you know it, but you don't know it. He was locked into it, and he's been that way this entire time. Every week, he has the answers to the questions. So it's always good to see a guy come in and do that even if it's not the best of situations for him to be ready to roll at any point."

And then when there's non-negative feedback when they watch film together, that also helps.

"That was pretty nice," Bozeman said of seeing Jensen have positive plays against Simmons.

"Yeah, it's exciting to watch," left tackle Ikem Ekwonu said. "It's fun to watch something that makes playing offensive line fun to do. You put a guy on the ground that's, . . . obviously, as offensive linemen, there's no positive stats for it. So that's kind of how we get our positivity, how we know how we're able to show off a little bit, is our effort. So, he enjoyed that 100 percent."

Nash Jensen

Again, Jensen isn't a big talker by nature, so when he gets that kind of praise in the meeting room, Bozeman said, "you'll get a little bitty smile out of him; that's about it. And then like, 'Thank you.' And then he moves on. He's not going to let it go to his head, and he keeps doing the right thing."

Jensen admitted the support helped, but that moment's over, and he's likely going to have plenty more chances to play this year, so there's a next one to get ready for. But now he has that first one out of the way, and those who line up next to him saw that he wasn't immediately out of place and that there's something to build on.

"Especially up front, like you set the tone up in there, so those guys, that's in their blood," Thomas said. "So when you see that, it's like he has everything already, you don't have to install it, and then he already came with it. I mean, just watching it, it looked pretty good. He can move; he's big and strong.

"So he looked the part, and then when you put him in there, you're like, all right, he's an NFL offensive lineman."

View photos from the Panthers' practice on Thursday.

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