SPARTANBURG, S.C. – Rookie cornerback Zack Sanchez has always had a voracious appetite.
Prior to games in college, the former Oklahoma Sooner said he would sneak chicken fingers into the locker room to satisfy his pre-game hunger.
"I felt like the more I ate, the better," Sanchez said.
He's got plenty on his plate entering his first NFL season.
Sanchez, an outside cornerback throughout his college career, has been learning the nickel position and all of its intricacies for Carolina's defense.
"It's been good. It's difficult at times," Sanchez said. "Obviously, coming from college, my sole job on the outside was, whoever their (top) guy is, that's who you cover the whole game. Being able to set the front, dealing with motions, so many different drops – it's something I've never done.
"You're basically a linebacker that can cover."
And Sanchez doesn't look anything like a linebacker. Scouts and draft analysts questioned whether the 5-11, 185 pounder could hold up physically in the NFL.
The Panthers believe he can, and Sanchez is eager to prove them right.
"Definitely, I think that was the biggest question mark," Sanchez said of his willingness to hit. "For me to be able to go out and show what I'm capable of, I think it will put the coaches at ease."
The coaching staff has had Sanchez work through some linebacker position drills to prepare him for the collisions he'll encounter in the run game.
"I think the first day of practice I was in with the linebackers shedding blocks and different things like that," Sanchez said. "It's physical in there and we need to be able, when we're needed, to be in the run fit and (we're) expected to make those tackles."
With all that's been thrown at him, Sanchez can confidently say he has a newfound respect for cornerbacks who operate in the slot.
"I remember in college I used to give my nickels a hard time, like, 'Y'all's job is easy,'" Sanchez recalled. "But actually playing it, I see the difficulties they face day in and day out."
Coincidentally, Sanchez will see one of those former teammates in Baltimore.
"Julian Wilson, he actually plays for the Ravens so I'll see him on Wednesday," Sanchez said. "He was our nickel (at Oklahoma). We've been talking these past couple weeks, especially since we're about to play each other, on how difficult the nickel position is. He told me, 'I tried to tell you.'"
Sanchez is now finding out on his own. His confidence hasn't ever wavered, and he's continued to progress throughout training camp.
"It's difficult, but I accepted the challenge," he said of his new position. "I like it, and obviously, it will make me a better player."