CHARLOTTE – After he was left off the original 53-man roster, rookie cornerback Zack Sanchez went to the practice squad knowing he had to be ready should an opportunity for a promotion arise.
"You never know when it's going to happen," Sanchez said, "and it came quick."
Four days prior to Carolina's Week 5 matchup against the Buccaneers, the Panthers released starting cornerback Bene Benwikere and elevated Sanchez.
"It's my job to come in and help us improve in any area I can," Sanchez said. "I'm excited to get out there and compete with my guys."
Sanchez, the fifth-round draft choice from Oklahoma, said spending the first month of the season on the practice squad turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
"I think I just got too caught up in the hype with being one of the three corners drafted and us coming in right away," Sanchez said. "It grounded me a lot."
Sanchez said he focused on fundamentals and was eager to prove himself as a hard worker.
The coaching staff and front office took notice.
"You sit there and you watch him on tape – we watch all of our young guys to see who is developing," head coach Ron Rivera said. "We've been watching him since he's been on the practice squad, and he's done a nice job. We feel comfortable and confident. We do think he's a young guy who has to play."
Said Sanchez: "I worked on my craft day in and day out. The coaches and the people upstairs saw that and felt comfortable with putting me in this position."
Rivera said veteran Robert McClain will serve as the nickel cornerback going forward, meaning Sanchez will get opportunities on the outside.
With second-round pick James Bradberry – a starter through the first four games – not expected to play with turf toe, it could very well be fellow rookies Sanchez and Daryl Worley making their first career starts against Tampa Bay on Monday Night Football.