Byron Bell sheds weight, criticism with ease

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- You hardly would recognize former Carolina Panthers left tackle Jordan Gross, who has lost more than 60 pounds since retiring and leaving the job to protect quarterback Cam Newton's blind side in question.

The players trying to replace Gross have trimmed down as well.

Not that drastically, mind you.

Byron Bell has dropped from the 345 pounds he was as the starting right tackle a year ago to 321. He hopes continuing to cut out fried foods -- including his favorite, catfish -- will help get him to 315 by the time training camp starts on July 24.

Nate Chandler, the starting right guard for much of 2013, has trimmed about 10 pounds to 310.

Both did it to improve their agility, a necessity when handling the top pass-rushers in the NFL. It's probably not bad for their long-term health, either, as Bell mentioned in relation to Gross.

"He just added 10 more years to his life," Bell said as the Panthers continued organized offseason workouts. "You don't need to carry around that kind of weight."

Bell doesn't believe in carrying around extra stress, either. When critics question his ability to make the move to left side, he smiles and reminds that he has a mother and three brothers -- including a twin who died in a fire at the family's Texas home in 2007 -- that "loves me."

"I believe I can [play left tackle] in my heart," said Bell, who was a left tackle at the University of Mexico and in high school before the Panthers moved him to the right side. "I believe I can. That's my dominant side hand, anyway.

"I feel comfortable over there. But if it's right tackle, left tackle, coach needs me to come off the bench, whatever I need to do to help this team win, that's what I'm here for."

The critics are out there, though.

Many refer to the 4.5 sacks -- most on Bell's side -- that Buffalo's Mario Williams had in the second game last season against Carolina.

Some are armed with the rating of minus-2.8 Bell was given by Pro Football Focus last season. To put that in perspective, Gross had a rating of 33.5.

"I don't read none of that," Bell said. "I get people who tell me things and I listen to it, but for the most part I'm, 'All right, that's cool.' There's nothing easy about pro football. If anybody could do it, they would come out and do it."

The Panthers believe he can do the job, at least to the point they didn't see anybody better worth taking with the 28th pick of the draft or anybody worth spending big bucks on in free agency outside of Cincinnati's Anthony Collins.

Gross believes Bell can do the job as well, saying during his retirement news conference that criticism against his former teammate was unfair.

But most importantly, Bell believes in Bell. He reminds that he didn't give up a sack during his senior year at New Mexico "against some top guys ... believe it or not, that's in the pros."

"I'm just going to come out and do my job and help this team get to 10 wins plus," Bell said.

Shedding the weight -- as well as the criticism -- can only be a plus.