CHARLOTTE — Byron Bell said he doesn’t read the negative comments about him, but he can’t help hearing about them.
The Carolina Panthers lineman will get a message from one of his Omega Psi Phi fraternity brothers, or his biological brother will pass along something he read on Facebook lamenting the Panthers moving Bell from right to left tackle for the 2014 season.
“Sir Purr would be a more effective left tackle,” read one comment on The Charlotte Observer’s website on a story about Bell’s potential move to left tackle.
“The sky IS falling,” wrote another reader.
“Only if you want this to be (quarterback) Cam Newton’s last season in the NFL,” read a third.
Bell’s message to those who send him the negative comments: If you believe half the stuff you write, he wouldn’t be any good.
“I don’t care about what people have to say about Byron Bell,” he said Wednesday after voluntary workouts. “You know what? I was born in Greenville, Texas. My mother’s name is Sanda Bell, and she loves me to death. I have a brother named Seth, he loves me. I have a brother named Elijah, he loves me. I have a brother named Isaiah – God rest his soul – he loves me. Hey, and I’m just out here trying to work and win as many football games for the Carolina Panthers as I can.”
Bell, who went undrafted out of New Mexico in 2011 and has struggled at times with the Panthers, is competing with fellow undrafted tackle Nate Chandler for the starting left tackle position vacated by retired Jordan Gross. Coach Ron Rivera said Wednesday the competition is wide open, and it’s the position he’s most curious about during spring workouts.
Neither player has started at left tackle in the NFL, and Chandler hasn’t even started at tackle. Originally a tight end at UCLA, Chandler has morphed from defensive end to defensive tackle to offensive guard to offensive tackle as a pro.
He offers a more athletic option at left tackle, though his experience lags behind Bell, who has started at right tackle since 2011 and has greater strength. Chandler started eight games for the Panthers last season, and this offseason he has worked on lengthening his steps as he goes from the interior of the line to the outside against pass rushers.
“He’s a very smart young football player who’s going to understand and work hard to give himself the opportunity to play,” Rivera said of Chandler’s willingness to change positions. “I don’t want to be condescending or anything, but I’m proud of him. I love seeing that in our guys, guys who are willing to do the extra things.”
Bell and Chandler have shed weight, too. Chandler lost 10 pounds off his 310-pound frame to make him more agile. Bell said he stopped eating fried catfish – among other meals – and he’s down from 345 to 321, though he wants to be at 315 by the start of camp.
Rivera flipped the pair from right to left tackle Wednesday with similar results. Second-string quarterback Derek Anderson, who’s working with the first team while franchise quarterback Cam Newton rehabs from offseason ankle surgery, regularly threw off his back foot because of weak protection.
Working against Greg Hardy and Charles Johnson, Bell and Chandler struggled to contain the defensive ends without pads on – something Rivera didn’t put much stock in.
On an 11-on-11 drill, Hardy beat Bell badly and likely would have sacked Anderson had he not worn a no-contact red jersey. Under pressure, Anderson was intercepted by linebacker Ben Jacobs . Afterward, Bell and Hardy exchanged words for a few moments before the next play.
Bell promised it was nothing major. He believes Hardy will make him a better left tackle, and Gross told him as much when they attended a Bobcats game near the end of the regular season.
“He was telling me when he had to go against (Julius Peppers), that helped him on Sundays,” Bell said. “It’s going to be the same thing with me and Greg. Greg Hardy will make me better going into every Sunday because the guy’s an animal, just bottom line. And he takes no plays off.”
Chandler concurred, but he said his biggest competition isn’t with Hardy, or Johnson, or even Bell.
It’s with himself.
“It’s getting the plays right and having perfect technique, and at the same time making each other better,” Chandler said. “Me and Byron, we don’t look at it as you’re going to play this position, I’m going to play that position. We just go out there and try to be the best we can be each and every day.”
That includes keeping their heads down and their ears closed to outside distractions. Bell, who once was a frequent Twitter user, has deactivated his account. He knows Pro Football Focus, a football analytics site, ranked him as the 52nd-best tackle out of 76 in the league last year.
But Bell tries to shut it out, and he has passed along that advice to Chandler.
“I told him we’re going to be one of top duos of undrafted tackles in the league, so we’re just going to have to work,” Bell said. “People are going to underestimate us, with Pro Football Focus and everybody wants to write all these things about us. To be honest with you, I don’t care. As long as my mother loves me and God loves me, I’m good.
“And I told him don’t read into all the negativity and do your thing, play your game, I’m going to play mine and let the results show on the scoreboard on Sunday.”
Jones: 704-358-5323; Twitter: @jjones9