Friday, August 03, 2007

Salley tackles bigger role

July 31, 2007

By Brett Borden

For most of the Carolina Panthers players, coaches and staff at training camp in Spartanburg, SC, this year isn’t much different than the one before. Or the one before that. Or the one before THAT.

But for Nate Salley, this year couldn’t be much more different than last year.

A fourth-round draft choice from Ohio State, Salley’s head was swimming in a pool full of X’s and O’s and checkoffs and coverages as a rookie last year. This year he feels a little more like the pool lifeguard, which is as a safety is what he needs to be.

“I’m picking up the plays,” he said. “Things are slowing up for me and I’m out there having fun playing ball, so I think things are going pretty well for me right now. You kind of know what to expect a little bit more your second time through. Last year I came in not knowing anything. I’m not saying I know it all now, but I have a better feel for what to expect.”

John Fox, who cut his teeth coaching up defensive backs in college and then for five years in the NFL before becoming the Panthers head coach in 2002, knows what he’s looking for on that part of the team. He says the team drafted Salley thinking he could one day possibly start.

“He’s a guy that we saw some promise in and he’s worked really hard,” said Fox. “It’s a tribute to him and his work ethic. He’s a lot more comfortable now in our system as far as the ’What to’s’ and ‘How to’s’. He’s making a case for himself now.

“I’ve been real impressed. Even late last year he showed signs and was close to getting an opportunity.
He had a whole year to practice and unfortunately wasn’t able to get on the field quite as much but he’s come that much more ready to play this year.”

Getting asked to bring your playbook to the coach’s office will do that to a player.

“Last year I got cut,” said Salley, who was signed to the Panthers practice squad a day later. “My mind is on every day and every practice and every meeting to keep my spot. That’s my mindset. I’m not taking anything for granted. I know it’s a blessing to be on the team and I plan on making the most of it.”

As of now he is playing with the first team defense. If everything falls into place, there could be opportunities galore for Salley to make plays should he keep that status.

“I feel great about it,” he said. “I think it’s a great opportunity for me to make a name for myself in this League and certainly on this team. I believe we have a pretty solid team here this year and I’m just going to go out there and keep working to be a part of it.”

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