CHARLOTTE -- Panthers running back DeAngelo Williams has plenty of people to thank for his breakout season, but said Wednesday that retired teammate Vinny Testaverde's fairly high on the list.
The 45-year-old quarterback sat him down late last year, and gave him words he pondered throughout the offseason. They must have worked, because Williams has delivered, and his 16 touchdowns lead the NFL. He was also named the first alternate to the NFC Pro Bowl team, which might be a snub -- but considering it's his first year starting and he's splitting work with rookie Jonathan Stewart, it's not so bad.
"He's probably impacted my season the most this year than anybody because of the conversation that we had before he left," Williams said. "He's going to tell you how it is and we talked. He left me with some things that I'm going to leave Stew with whenever it's my time to hang it up, because he's very inspirational."
Williams wasn't going to share the particulars of the conversation, but it doesn't take much of a stretch to figure it had to do with the on- and off-field maturity so many have spoken about. The third-year back has impressed teammates and coaches with his work ethic and willingness to share the load with Stewart. It wasn't that he was lazy or a bad teammate, but so many have talked about the way he's taken that next step toward becoming an elite back.
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Testaverde was around for one of the flashes, the Arizona game last year in which Williams ran for a then-career high 121 yards, including a 75-yard touchdown.
"We had a lengthy conversation and everything he said to me made perfect sense," Williams said. "From the film room down just to work ethic and everything of that nature. He really left me with some things that really touched me and stayed on my heart, as you can tell from this season."
• VARYING REACTIONS: As excited as he was to make his first Pro Bowl, it wasn't as if left tackle Jordan Gross was waiting by the phone. He was caught off guard when general manager Marty Hurney called with the news.
"I was at the house, doing some chores, cleaning up the garage actually," Gross said. "Marty called me and congratulated me, I didn't know if maybe he was pulling a prank on me, but he told me I got selected as a starter.
"I checked to make sure he was serious, I asked and he said yeah. I went in and hugged my wife. It's just, ... this year has been outstanding, this Sunday is going to be one of the biggest regular season games probably we've ever played. And to have something like this happen in the middle of the week makes it even more special."
Their other first-timer, linebacker Jon Beason got the news when wide receiver Steve Smith sent him a text message three hours before the list was made public.
"It was about 1 o'clock, it said 'What's up Pro Bowler?'" Beason said. "I didn't talk to Marty until about 4. I had already let the fam(ily) know.
"It felt good to get that confirmation. I knew Steve wasn't messing with me, so right then I called my mom."
Williams shrugged when asked about being left out despite his accomplishments, saying he checked the Internet for the rosters during a break from a video game.
"It's not tough. I didn't really care," Williams said. "I didn't worry about it. I'm not a Pro Bowl guy. Like I'm not stuck on that. My season is not won or lost in the Pro Bowl."
• INJURY UPDATE: The Panthers practiced without starters Maake Kemoeatu (ankle) and right guard Keydrick Vincent (groin) and reserve defensive end Hilee Taylor (calf).
Linebacker Adam Seward returned after missing the last three weeks, and reserve wide receiver Kenny Moore (hamstring) was limited.
• MORE RECOGNITION: In addition to four Pro Bowlers announced Tuesday, the Panthers had four alternates.
Besides Williams who'd be first in line if someone can't play -- kicker John Kasay, cornerback Chris Gamble and left guard Travelle Wharton were named third alternates.
Panthers coach John Fox wasn't terribly interested in discussing who was snubbed.
"I told our players earlier this season I was looking for Super Bowlers, not Pro Bowlers, and that's where our focus is." Fox said.