SPARTANBURG -- For most of the young players on the fringes of making the roster, the goal is to have a moment, a flash, something people will remember.
Gary Gibson's not going to provide many of those, but the things he does are getting him closer to a full-time job with the team.
The little-known Carolina Panthers defensive tackle is beginning to make a name for himself in camp, by doing the small things the right way often.
"There's not one," general manager Marty Hurney replied when asked if there was a defining moment for Gibson this camp. "That's the thing with him. He's the same every play. He's a high-motor, all-go guy, ... and he's gotten better."
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That's moved Gibson quickly from the land of 'Who's he?" to recognition from other players. Though he's back down to the second team with Damione Lewis back from an injury, the fact he's that high up the depth chart is a testament to his no-quit style. He had one of the three sacks posted by the first defense in last Saturday's scrimmage, and has impressed everyone here with a manner that can only be described as "scrappy," no matter how corny that sounds.
"He's definitely a guy that gives us fits every day," left tackle Jordan Gross said. "Works hard, strong, physical player. He'll definitely be getting some snaps this year.
"I didn't know anything about him when we first signed him last year. But he's proven to be a consistent guy that shows up every day the same way. Definitely a good steal for us."
Not bad for someone who was pushing pencils instead of guards and centers in 2006.
Gibson began his NFL odyssey as an undrafted free agent, literally one of the huddled masses. He was a good-not-great player at Rutgers, an undersized one at that. When he blew out his foot in Baltimore's camp in 2005 and wasn't re-signed the following year, he figured his career was over.
Working as a financial consultant for A.G. Edwards in Morristown, N.J., Gibson kept looking out at the cubicles and knowing he had to give his dream another try.
"The more I was in the office, the less I wanted to be there," Gibson said. "So it was one of those things, I've got to give it one more shot."
He found a good time for a last chance, as he played in the final season of NFL Europe, going over as an unallocated player but eventually making the All-NFLE team. The Panthers signed him as an extra guy for camp, but the longer he hung around, the more they noticed him.
"Hey Gibson," defensive line coach Sal Sunseri barked one day early in camp last year, sounding genuinely unsure. "Where'd you say you were from again?"
Once he figured it out, Sunseri began riding him hard, constantly yelling at him, making him the annual whipping boy. Sunseri wouldn't bother doing so for guys with no shot, so Gibson never minded.
"Well, in any level you play at, you figure if the coach is yelling at you you're doing something right or wrong," Gibson said with a grin. "If he's not talking to you, you might not be there anymore. So I always see it as a good thing. I don't mind getting yelled at."
These days, however, all that's getting thrown his way is praise.
"Yeah, Gibby works extremely hard," Lewis said, a broad grin creasing his face with the mention of Gibson's name. "You love his attitude, the way he comes to work every day. He's going to be a good player.
"Hopefully, he has a really good preseason. I hope he does well, because I like him, I think he's going to be a great player."
That the endorsement was so genuine's no surprise, since Hurney said Gibson's energy was good for the team as a whole. "When there's a guy, a high-energy guy like that," Hurney said. "I think it's contagious."
That has him playing ahead of draft picks, and alongside veteran guys as the Panthers look for new depth inside.
The Panthers were looking for smaller, quicker defensive tackles this offseason, but he's taking it to an extreme. He's listed at 6-foot-3 and 285 pounds, and admits that it's hard going up against the new mammoths the Panthers have stacked on the offensive line across from him.
"The biggest thing I've worked on since I got hurt, was in the weight room four or five days a week the last three years," he said. "I feel like what I give up in weight I still have in strength.
"It's hard sometimes, you get your foot up in the air and guys get you rolled out of there, but I feel like I can hold my own against the big guys because of the work I've done in the offseason."
Asked to quantify that strength, in terms of his bench press, and he casually says: "Around 500."
"He's still stout, his strength is good," Gross said, nodding, a quiet acknowledgment that he can be a handful.
Gibson's goal is to translate that into a longer stay. He spent most of last year on the practice squad, hanging around and grinding and never getting the payoff at the end of the week. But he realized his dream last November, when he was promoted to the active roster and given a uniform in Green Bay, where he registered one tackle in his only game.
He's still far from a sure bet this season. The Panthers are set with starters, and brought in a pair of veteran free agents (Darwin Walker and the injured Ian Scott) along with sixth-round draft pick Nick Hayden.
So Gibson knows he can't yet act like he's established. He has to keep working like the guy who Sunseri didn't know, in hopes he keeps people from ever forgetting.
"I mean, I was a free agent guy out of college, out of the league for a year and practice squad last year, so I mean, you probably shouldn't," he said when asked if folks should know him. "I've played in one game my whole career. But I've been putting in a lot of work and trying to do the best I can and really compete. ...
"The biggest thing now is, I want to be a force. I want to be a person who goes out there and dominates. I'm going to keep working hard until that comes true for me."
Be sure to visit Darin Gantt's blog for updates on the Carolina Panthers at community.heraldonline.com
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