CHARLOTTE – The Carolina Panthers entered training camp with one of the youngest teams in the NFL.
Nothing happened to derail the youth movement Saturday, when the Panthers reduced their roster from 75 to 53 players for the start of the regular season.
A team record 10 rookies made the opening-day roster, with nine of Carolina's 10 draft picks as well as undrafted defensive tackle Andre Neblett surviving the cut.
The preponderance of youth meant that veteran defensive tackle Tank Tyler found himself among those waived; returning quarterback Hunter Cantwell didn't make it while rookie Tony Pike did; and young receivers like David Gettis and Charly Martin secured roster spots while relative veteran Kenny Moore did not.
"There were quite a few players that we had to release that we would have been very happy to have," general manager Marty Hurney said. "We had a lot of difficult decisions at a lot of different positions.
"It's a good thing to have I guess, but it makes it extremely hard."
Perhaps the most eye-catching move was the one to waive Tyler, a defensive tackle acquired from the Kansas City Chiefs in 2009 for a fifth-round draft pick, and keeping Neblett.
That was just one tough decision made up front (the release of Eric Moore was another) among a group that excelled throughout preseason play.
"We felt like our competition there and our level of play there was very good. We thought all of those guys could help us," Hurney said. "Really the guy surprised us was Andre Neblett.
"Every time he was in games, he made plays. Every time he was in there, he made something happen."
Hurney said that Pike, a sixth-round pick out of Cincinnati, impressed the coaching staff during his extended playing time in Thursday's preseason finale at the Pittsburgh Steelers.
"Hunter has been great, has done everything that we've asked of him, but Tony showed the other night a lot of the things we saw from him in college," Hurney said. "He's got excellent feet, a great feel for pressure and great ability to escape things in the pocket, and he has the ability to make things happen."
Wide receiver was the most widely discussed position group during the preseason. In the end, the Panthers kept Martin for his special teams ability in light of the season-ending injury shoulder injury sustained by Wallace Wright, and kept all three rookies they drafted – Gettis and third-rounders Brandon LaFell and Armanti Edwards. They join a receiving corps with vets Steve Smith and Dwayne Jarrett.
That left a pair of Charlotte products in Moore -- who was on the team last two years -- and undrafted rookie Trent Guy as the odd men out.
"Kenny had a good spring and good summer and really improved from last year and did everything we asked," Hurney said. "We've got three young guys that can run and have some tools to play in this league.
"It was a tough decision, but the numbers just worked out to where we felt like we wanted to spend the time to see them develop."
As with Wright, some other decisions were shaped by injuries as well. With guard Duke Robinson suffering a knee injury against the Steelers and guard C.J. Davis out with a concussion (both were placed on injured reserve), guard Tim Duckworth made the roster after three days of practice and an encouraging performance at Pittsburgh.
In the crowded defensive backfield, Aaron Francisco went on IR with a hamstring injury, while veterans C.J. Wilson and Brian Witherspoon were waived. So was R.J. Stanford, the lone rookie draft pick not to make the squad.
|DE||Eric Moore||5||Florida State|
|LB||Quinton Culberson||4||Mississippi State|
|LB||Mortty Ivy||1||West Virginia|
|WR||Kenneth Moore||3||Wake Forest|
|TE||Jamie Petrowski (Injured)||2||Indiana State|
|RB||Dantrell Savage||3||Oklahoma State|
|DT||Tank Tyler||4||North Carolina State|
|LB||Sean Ware||R||New Hampshire|
|S||Aaron Francisco||6||Brigham Young|
Some of those waived Saturday likely will resurface as early as Sunday: Beginning at noon, the Panthers will work toward establishing an eight-player practice squad.