Lock Ness: 'Camp Body' is Turning Heads

ARLINGTON TX - SEPTEMBER 02: Wide receiver Manuel Johnson #15 of the Dallas Cowboys makes a pass reception against Nate Ness #31 of the Miami Dolphins at Cowboys Stadium on September 2 2010 in Arlington Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Every year, on every team there's a Nate Ness– somebody who comes from relative obscurity and plays far better than expected. Last year it was Byron Bell, the UDFA offensive tackle from New Mexico, who now entering his second year supplanted former first round pick Jeff Otah, and is the established right tackle for the Panthers. Bell's situation was a little different, because he was already regarded as one of the best UDFA's available post-draft; a player with a draftable grade who was lost in the shuffle. It's hard to imagine why a team wouldn't select him, but the rest of the league's loss is the Panthers gain.

Unlike Byron Bell, cornerback Nate Ness has had a considerably more difficult NFL road. Stuck in perpetual limbo as he bounced from team to team, labeled at each spot as a 'camp body'; disposable, temporary, and fleeting.

Ness looks like a camp body to use as a holdover while Norman and Hogan get healthy This is his NINTH stop in the NFL, and has good size at 6'1".

Heck, you never know... maybe something sticks.

by James Dator on Aug 2, 2012 2:53 PM EDT

Being wrong is what makes the NFL so fun. Conventional wisdom almost never applies in a league with parity, and this extends beyond the standings, or who hoists the Lombardi Trophy in February. This parity filters through every organization, all of whom are looking for different qualities in players. Who was the last undrafted NBA or NHL player to make a serious impact, and if they did separate themselves, did anyone hold a candle to Victor Cruz's performance? In looking for free agents some teams like elite athletes, some want hard-nosed players, above all else the Carolina Panthers are searching for desire, and drive. Ron Rivera wants his roster populated with guys who may not have all the tangibles, but who want to play football above all else, and are willing to leave it on the field.

Thus far Nate Ness is separating himself, and it looks like something is starting to stick.

More after the jump

In order to come from obscurity to make an NFL roster it requires hard work, desire, and more than a healthy dose of luck. For Nate Ness this came in the form of arriving at a team lacking decent NFL talent at the CB position, and coming in at a time where both Josh Norman and Brandon Hogan were sidelined by injury. Couple this with Chris Gamble, who wasn't going to be taking a full set of reps, and you have a situation where it was Ness had the chance to standout amongst veterans Captain Munnerlyn, Darius Butler, and R.J. Stanford– and stand out he has.

Ness grabs an interception in Friday's practice: Good for him.

Ness grabs two more interceptions at Fan Fest: Okay, now you have my attention.

Granted, he's working against the third and second teams, but it's of little consequence if you're making plays and others aren't. The road is going to be considerably more difficult for Ness than UDFA's on the roster because he's no longer practice squad eligible. In order to make the squad this fall he'll need to make the 53 outright, which will be incredibly difficult, but so far he has been a revelation.

In speaking with Panthers.com, Ness characterized the road he's traveling:

"OK, I got released from one team, but that's not the end of the journey. There's more to it, what are you going to do? Are you just going to sit and pout and mope around like that's the end of it? Every time I've been released, I go back and hit the weight room the next day, because I want to keep myself ready. You never know when the next opportunity is going to come, so you have to keep yourself prepared and in a positive mindset."

Yep... this pretty much sounds exactly like the kind of players Coach Rivera wants on the Carolina Panthers. No silver spoons, no entitlement, no inflated sense of self worth; He wants confidence, but not comfort– self-belief, not self-obsession. From a physical standpoint he's just what the Panthers need too. As it stands the secondary is, let's face it, small. With the exception of Chris Gamble and Josh Norman there's not much size between the cornerbacks and safeties, and there are specific advantages to having a big frame, obviously something coach values too.

"The thing I like about Nate is that he's a guy that has the physical stature that you look for in a corner," Rivera said. "Then you watch him practice, and you see that some of the things he does suit what we want to do."

Nate Ness is making waves in his first few days as a member of the Carolina Panthers. I've re-assessed my assertion that he's just a camp body, and I suggest you do too. Is he a lock to make the roster? No, but thus far he's been locking down receivers in training camp, and making big plays. If he keeps that up then he'll have a chance to make the roster.

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