CHARLOTTE – "It's something that you think about as a little kid," linebacker Jared Norris said of being named to Carolina's 53-man roster. "You work hard and you get to college, and you think it's right there, and then you've got to work hard again. You've just got to keep growing. It's kind of like a dream come true for me. I'm just happy to get to play football and be a part of this organization."
The Panthers' impressive list of Pro Bowlers from a season ago probably didn't bat an eye at Saturday's 4 p.m. deadline for a 53-man roster. Others were like Norris, unsure of whether or not they would be practicing the next day.
Offensive tackle Donald Hawkins joins the young linebacker as one of the lucky ones to keep his job.
"I'm excited. That was one of my goals – to make this team and stay on this team," Hawkins said. "I like the group of guys I'm working with and the coaches I'm working with. I'm excited to be here and to try to achieve what these guys were able to achieve last year."
Wide receiver Damiere Byrd knows the pain and disappointment that players like cornerback Zack Sanchez and tight end Beau Sandland felt Saturday. Last season, he met the same fate – cut from the team to be signed to the Panthers' practice squad. But, his successful promotion this year can be a model for those young players to follow.
"I think that during the offseason, starting from last year all the way up till now, that I did everything to make the 53," Byrd said. "So knowing what I did to improve myself, I'm not too surprised by it."
Linebacker Jeremy Cash joins Norris as an undrafted rookie free agent signed by the Panthers in the offseason to keep his job into the regular season. After totaling 13 solo tackles (the second-most for the Panthers in the preseason), Cash was able to impress head coach Ron Rivera and general manager Dave Gettleman.
"I knew that the only way that I was going to be able to make the team was to go out there and make plays," Cash said. "I've always believed in myself and understood that I can make plays – I'm a playmaker – but I just needed a team to give me the opportunity to go out there and showcase those skills."
Even with a year of experience on the rookie, Hawkins had similar thoughts.
"I had to show my worth," said Hawkins, who will provide depth along the offensive line with newly-rostered guard Tyler Larsen. "I had to make them feel like, 'We've got to keep this guy. We can't cut him. He's got something that can keep him in this league for a long time.' I just had to go out and showcase that in practice and in games."
But don't think that these players have room to grow complacent.
"Once you get on the squad," Norris said, "then you feel like, 'Now I've got to ramp it up even more, I'm here now, so let's buckle down and ramp it up.' Watch even more film. Work out a little bit more. Just adding those little things, the little edges that get you better."
And Cash knows that the past, whether it be his preseason audition or Carolina's Super Bowl loss, is exactly that – a thing of the past.
"The biggest thing is that we not be too focused on what happened last season," he said. "This is a new team, a new season, and we just look forward to going out there and starting the season."
View photos from the Panthers' week of practice leading up to their game at Denver.