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Players fight for final roster spots


CHARLOTTE – They say football is a game of inches.

That's true on game day but also on a day like Friday, when the Panthers personnel department will work toward trimming the roster from 75 players down to 53 in anticipation of the regular season.

"We have a lot of battles. There are a lot of guys that are fighting for positions on this team," head coach Ron Rivera said. "When you make a cut, you are going to let go of a good football player."

Some good players were let go earlier in the week, when the Panthers reduced their roster to 75. Players still on the roster will get one final opportunity to show that they should remain there when Carolina concludes the preseason Thursday night against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Players like defensive end Craig Roh, an undrafted rookie from the University of Michigan who set a school record with 51 consecutive starts, are on that brutal bubble.

Roh has been a starter from the first day he began playing organized football around the age of 12. He said his Christian faith helps him deal with the stress of the situation.

"I do worry about it because I am human, but it does help put me at peace with whatever happens," Roh said. "I'm going to enjoy even the struggle because it's something I will miss when I'm done playing. I have zero regrets. I've given everything that I have."

As Roh and upwards of 30 of his teammates battle for the final 10 or so spots on the Panthers roster, players who are fortunate enough to feel secure in their spot will be watching.

Left tackle Jordan Gross, a 2003 first-round draft pick, has seen countless players fight for their football lives throughout the years.

"It's such a big game for so many guys," Gross said. "The young guys usually have their families come out. It's a neat environment because the starters aren't the focus of attention. It's the backups, the guys trying to make the team.

"It's got to be stressful knowing that this is your last chance with final cuts coming. I'm really rooting for quite a few players."

It's hard not to root for guys like Roh, guys who have already beaten the odds to get this far and are now so close to turning a childhood dream that once seemed like a pipe dream into a reality.

At the end of the day, though, there's simply not enough room for everybody, and it's the job of the Panthers front office and coaching staff to select the players that will most help the team when the regular season kicks off in less than two weeks.

The players' entire body of work this offseason will be weighed, but making a lasting impression Thursday against the Steelers can only help.

"Good teams make some tough decisions on these days," Gross said. "You have to establish your role players and special teams guys, and whether you keep an extra receiver or running back or safety, all that comes down to how they play on the field.

"This game is very, very important."

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