Panthers turn to safety with two first names

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Anderson Russell.

Or is it Russell Anderson?

Even Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera has trouble keeping it straight.

"Constantly," Rivera said after a late Tuesday afternoon practice. "I've got to remember A comes before R in the alphabet, so it's Anderson Russell."

The name may be confusing, but it's not so tough finding the strong safety with two first names on the field these days. He started Sunday night's 28-16 preseason win against Kansas City for the injured Roman Harper and was back working with the first team on Tuesday as Carolina prepares for a Friday night game at New England.

He's literally come out of nowhere to move ahead of Robert Lester on the unofficial depth chart.

The Panthers expect Harper (turf toe) to return soon. He missed most of training camp in Spartanburg, South Carolina, with the injury and hasn't practiced the past week and a half in Charlotte. He's doubtful for New England, which means he could get little to no playing time before the regular-season opener at Tampa Bay.

Rivera doesn't seem worried. Harper is a two-time Pro Bowl selection with eight years of experience with the New Orleans Saints before coming to Carolina in March. He went through all the offseason workouts and a June minicamp, so he knows the defense.

As Rivera reminded, the Panthers didn't sign the player -- Quintin Mikell -- that started at strong safety in last season's opener until the week before the game.

"I see Roman Harper in the same vein," Rivera said. "This is a very veteran guy that knows a lot of football. He's going to be OK."

Meanwhile, Russell has an opportunity he doesn't want to waste. If you haven't heard of him, you're not alone. And there's really not much to tell.

He was signed by the Washington Redskins as an undrafted rookie in 2010. He appeared in two games before suffering a season-ending ACL injury and was released before the 2011 season.

He was with the Miami Dolphins from September 2011 through November 2012. Carolina signed him and then released him before the end of the season.

He re-signed with Carolina in time for the 2013 training camp, but was released before the season. He started his third stint with the team in February.

The Panthers like him because he can play safety and nickel corner.

Russell simply is thankful for another opportunity.

"It's been a grind," he said. "It's been something I've worked on each and every day to do my job and try to show the coaches they can count on me. It's a thing day after day you have to build that trust with them."

That people have trouble with his name doesn't bother him.

"That's been happening my whole entire life, elementary school on up," he said. "You can't do anything but laugh."