Pair of tickled tackles

CHARLOTTE – Andre Neblett spent the preseason in the Panthers' auxiliary locker room, a cramped corner behind the main locker room typically inhabited by players not likely to make the team.

One way or the other, Neblett knew last Saturday would be moving day.

"I was up all night, wondering whether I was going to get cut," Neblett said. "The next thing I knew, they were moving my locker up front.

"It was great, just a blessing."

Neblett and Derek Landri, a pair of defensive tackles, weren't exactly odds-on favorites to make the 53-man roster in the preseason, and no one would have predicted that both would have survived the final cut.

Neblett, a rookie, went undrafted out of Temple. The Panthers claimed Landri off waivers from the Jacksonville Jaguars late last season when Tank Tyler went on injured reserve with a knee injury, but he didn't play a single snap.

But last weekend, both made the roster, while Tyler did not.

"We kept five guys (defensive tackles), which is a lot. It's a testament to how well everyone has played," Landri said. "Looking at it on paper, you had Ed (Johnson) coming in; Louis (Leonard) who played here last year; and Tank, who has played a lot in this league. They were all in front of me, plus Nick (Hayden), who was established here.

"I was No. 5 coming into it. It looked like a long, uphill road, but I've been able to work my way up it."

Landri credited the Panthers' offseason conditioning program – headed by strength and conditioning coach Jerry Simmons -- for helping him rediscover the quickness that helped him stick with Jacksonville for two-plus seasons.

"For me, it started in the offseason with Jerry. I think we've got a great program here," Landri said. "I put a little bit of weight on, but I also got a lot of my quickness and speed back. I was able to build a great base, and it carried over from there."

At 6-2, 290 pounds, Landri admits he's not going to overpower many opponents, but the Notre Dame graduate does have confidence in his brain power.

"I'm not going to run over anybody on the field, so I try to use speed and quickness to my advantage, and knowledge of the game," Landri said, noting the benefit of his commitment to film study. "It might give me a little bit of an edge. Even if it's just on one play or two plays, it might be a big play."

As a rookie, Neblett wasn't in as good a position to win over the Panthers with his knowledge of the playbook, but the coaches quickly learned that he knew how to make plays. Neblett did have knowledge of the 4-3 defense that the Panthers employ from his days at Temple, but he knew that wouldn't be enough with all the defensive linemen above him in the pecking order.

"As soon as I signed with the Panthers, I knew it was going to be a journey, being a free agent," Neblett said. "But everybody was telling me, 'It doesn't matter where you start; it's how you finish.' I kept that in mind and just kept working hard.

"This is a business, and when you're out there, you've got to produce. That's what I did."

It may be a business, but both Neblett and Landri can't help but feel like little kids when they think about Sunday's season opener at the New York Giants.

"It's an exciting time," Landri said. "We've got a young team out here, and we're all playing well, all meshing together. It's fun to see that grow."

Added Neblett: "I'm very excited. I've been dreaming about this moment, dreaming about the opportunity to get on the field with some of the best players in the world.

"Now it's coming true, and I'm still in shock."

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