Roster hopefuls tackle challenge

CHARLOTTE – Near the end of practice Tuesday, a handful of players worked on how to prevent a punt from crossing the plane of the goal line, a drill that utilized a soccer ball.

It's much more difficult to predict the bounces that a football might take.

"You never know what day can be your last out here. You never know when it's going to be taken away," linebacker Jordan Senn said. "That's just the nature of the beast."

Players got a stark reminder of that reality at practice Tuesday, when a few of their own were nowhere to be found. Injuries ended the seasons for wide receiver Wallace Wright and defensive end Hilee Taylor, and the need to reduce the roster per NFL rules led the Panthers to waive wide receivers Dexter Jackson and Oliver Young.

The roster now stands at 75, but in less than a week – in the aftermath of Thursday's preseason finale at the Pittsburgh Steelers – that number will plummet to 53.

"You only allowed to have a certain amount of people on the roster, and you see every day somebody leaving and somebody coming in," said Robert McClain, a rookie cornerback striving to make the roster who should see significant snaps against the Steelers.

"It's a very important game," McClain continued. "The ones aren't going to get a lot of reps, so the twos and threes are going to be in there a lot. It's important to show the coaches that you can go out in a game situation and play, that you can execute what we do in practice."

While the players are focused on giving all they have in their pursuit of a spot with Carolina, the Panthers aren't the only team that will be watching. Every year, some players that get cut following the final preseason game soon find themselves employed by another NFL team.

"Any opportunity to play is a huge opportunity," said David Gettis, a rookie entrenched in an intense battle for roster spots at wide receiver. "This is the NFL, and you've got to step up your game every day because you know that every second of the game you're being critiqued, you're being watched by someone.

"It's huge, but it's the game I love and the game I grew up playing, so I'm not going to let that get to me."

Senn, who played 17 games over two seasons with the Indianapolis Colts but who also was twice waived by the Colts, agreed that staying cool in the heat of the moment can be key to survival.

"If you push too much, nothing good is going to come from it," Senn said. "You've just got to forget about it and play.

"You try to think as positive as possible. If you start thinking things like, 'I'm not sure if I'm going to make it,' then you're going to press, and things aren't going to go right."

Wide receiver Charly Martin, who like Senn missed a major portion of training camp with an injury, feels much the same way. Martin is as determined as anyone to make the roster, having played on special teams with a major tape job protecting a broken finger, but he's just as determined to cherish the journey.

"I try to understand this business, and you have to enjoy it while you're in it," Martin said. "It's pretty cutthroat, and it can end at any time. You just have to control what you do and put in the time and put in the work, and then it's out of your hands."

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