CHARLOTTE – Many more college football players than actually make it in the NFL believe they will make the cut, but defensive tackle Eric Crume is one hopeful who believes in performing a reality check.
In the case of Crume, the reality is that he has a better shot than you might think after glancing at his college bio.
"Sometimes you've got to be realistic with yourself. I didn't have great numbers," Crume said. "But I knew I could play with anybody."
Crume has put up some serious numbers so far this preseason – serious numbers as defensive tackles go. The position is more about grunt work than shiny stats, but Crume has both – relatively speaking. His seven tackles are the most among defensive linemen. More impressively, he's logged 88 plays through three games – 32 more than any other defensive tackle.
And it's been about quality as much as quantity.
"He's played more snaps than any defensive lineman, and when he's been in there our linebackers have still been able to run well," head coach Ron Rivera said. "That's probably one of the biggest tests that I look at – does a nose tackle, does a three-technique allow the linebackers to run?"
The 330-pounder who spent last season on the Panthers' practice squad has been called upon in bulk because of injuries at the position. Behind starters Kawann Short and Star Lotulelei, Kyle Love hasn't played in a preseason game and Vernon Butler played five snaps in the opener before going down with a knee injury.
Yet Crume still seems to always have just enough left in the tank, as illustrated by him sprinting nearly 40 yards down the left sideline late in last week's game at Jacksonville in hopes of springing cornerback Zack Sanchez for an interception return. The effort was highlighted by his defensive coaches during a recent meeting.
"I wanted to give him a chance to score," Crume said. "I just like being around the guys and have a good spirit every day. When you grow up where things are hard, you learn to appreciate the good things in life and take the best of them. This is a blessing.
"You've just got to enjoy it while it lasts. My last play could be tomorrow. You never know, so I just try to enjoy it."
That attitude helped him through tough times growing up in Detroit and helped him believe in himself after he started just 10 games over an injury-riddled four seasons at Syracuse. It should also help him be mentally prepared for what could happen later this week when the Panthers trim their roster from 90 all the way down to 53 for the regular season.
Crume isn't widely regarded as a player likely to survive the cut, but his determination combined with the current injury situation means he might just have a shot.
"I still keep a positive attitude because I can only control what I can control," he said. "As long as I give 100 percent and put myself in the best position, that's all I can do. I just control what I can control and go play ball."
INJURY UPDATE: Butler worked on the side for the second consecutive day as he continues his bid to return from a sprained left knee in time for Week 1. Love (ankle), who traveled to Jacksonville but didn't play, wasn't on the practice field for the second consecutive day. Defensive tackle Toby Johnson (leg) did practice for the first time since July 26, the opening night at training camp. Guard Chris Scott, who's in the concussion protocol, was taken inside early in practice.
View photos from Carolina's fourth week of preseason practice.