Former NCSU, Duke and ECU players fight for Panthers roster spots
Posted August 8
Spartanburg, S.C. — It’s a grueling process for fringe players hoping to make a National Football League roster, even more so this season with a universal 37-man cut down after the fourth preseason game.
The league approved the rule this offseason, eliminating the previous process of two cut-down periods, the first from 90 to 75 players and a final roster trimming to 53.
The change now allows teams to carry 90 players into their fourth preseason game, which allows for more evaluation of players on the cut line. Previously, the first round of cuts were scheduled before the final week of the preseason.
Here are four local players vying for a spot on the Panthers’ final 53-man roster:
Zeek Bigger, LB (ECU)
Bigger was signed as an unrestricted free agent by Carolina on May 30. The former ECU Pirate spent last year participating in the Spring D-League in West Virginia after going undrafted in 2015.
He did receive a rookie minicamp invite in early May, but the Panthers did not offer a roster spot following camp.
Bigger is currently listed as the third weak side linebacker on the Panthers depth chart. He will have to beat out the likes of Ben Boulware, Ben Jacobs and Jared Norris for a spot on the 53-man roster.
Jeremy Cash, LB (Duke)
Cash survived cuts last year after transitioning from safety to linebacker. He struggled early to learn the position but did enough to secure a roster spot.
The former Blue Devil standout found a home on the special teams unit, a route that many fringe players must passionately aim for if they want to make the team.
Cash has moved up on the depth chart, however, and is now listed as the backup to Panthers starting weak side linebacker Thomas Davis. With Davis nearing the end of his career, Cash’s time to shine could be sooner rather than later.
He will still spend the majority of his time on the special teams unit, but Cash should see more time at linebacker, especially an extended period of time in the preseason.
Cash is likely a lock to make the roster, but he'll have to continue making plays and impressing coaches to stave off the talented linebackers behind him.
TJ Graham, WR (NC State)
Graham continues to look for a home in the NFL. He has spent time with the Buffalo Bills, New York Jets, Tennessee Titans and New Orleans Saints. Graham did have a productive rookie season in Buffalo, but the Bills ended up moving on.
The former NC State receiver signed with the Panthers on July 24.
Graham has quite the battle to make Carolina’s roster. Surprisingly, the speedster hasn’t been featured on the punt or kick return unit – besides as a blocker – a skill he flourished at during his time in college.
If Graham is to make the Panthers roster, he'll have to leapfrog several talented wideouts who have already made big plays during training camp, including Keyarris Garrett, Austin Duke, Kaelin Clay, Mose Frazier and Fred Ross.
With other receivers making plays around Graham, and him yet to flash in practice, his chances to make the roster are slim.
Bryce Williams, TE (ECU)
Williams is the newest player to join the Panthers after agreeing to terms on Thursday. The former ECU tight end spent time last season with the New England Patriots and Los Angeles Rams practice squads after going undrafted in the 2016 NFL Draft.
The Panthers No. 1 and No. 2 tight ends are essentially set, with Greg Olsen and Ed Dickson. But after to the first two strings, it’s wide open.
Chris Manhertz has impressed at camp, which moved him up to the No. 3 spot, followed by Scott Simonson and Eric Wallace. Carolina carried only three tight ends into the regular season last year – Olsen, Dickson and Simonson.
Like Graham, Williams has a tough task to secure a spot on the final 53-man roster. If it’s not a spot on the special teams unit, Williams is likely looking at a potential home on the Panthers’ practice squad.