CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Frank Alexander knows he made the same mistake -- twice. He knows he let a lot of people down, including himself and his family. He knows he likely won't get a third chance if he makes the same mistake again.
But the Carolina Panthers defensive end who was suspended for the first 14 games -- the first four for one violation and the next 10 for another -- for violating the NFL substance abuse policy insists he's a changed man.
Now he hopes the Panthers give him a chance to prove it in the final two regular-season games against Cleveland and Atlanta.
"Man, it's been a learning process and an eye-opening process," Alexander said on Monday after being reinstated. "It's just been some long 14 weeks. I stayed prayed up. I got back in the church. Every Sunday I was in church. That was a big help.
"I just tried to stay focused, keep my eyes on the prize. I knew this day eventually would come.”
Alexander turns 25 on Wednesday, which will be his first official practice with the team since training camp. He's pumped, even though he knows people outside the organization are skeptical he'll mess up again.
"We all make mistakes, man," Alexander said. "So you can't sit up here and say I didn't get the message. I had a lot going on, a lot of personal issues. My mother was going through breast cancer. My father was dealing with the heart attacks. He had to get open heart surgery.
"I just had a lot of stuff on my plate. I can't sit here and say I didn't learn. I learned, but when you're going through some stuff, you never know [what you'll do]. The only thing now is I can just look for better ways to try to deal with those types of things."
The good news is Alexander's mother is cancer-free as of October and his father is doing well.
"So everything right now is falling in place," he said.
It could all fall into place for the Panthers (5-8-1), too. They've won two consecutive games to remain alive in the NFC South playoff picture with New Orleans (5-8 heading into a Monday night game at Chicago) and Atlanta (5-9).
The defense has been playing well for almost two months, and Alexander could make it better. He's the closest thing the Panthers have talent-wise and versatility-wise to 2013 sack leader Greg Hardy, who is on the NFL's commissioner's exempt list until his domestic violence case is resolved some time in 2015.
He can play end and tackle, and drop back into coverage. He did those things well enough in training camp that coach Ron Rivera made him his camp MVP.
Alexander's teammates like him, as well.
"I've been waiting on Frank to come back since Week 2," end Mario Addison said. "Frank has a lot of energy. I like playing with him. He gets everybody going. Frank, he's versatile, man."
Alexander kept in shape physically and mentally during the suspension for a substance he chooses not to reveal. He constantly was at Bank of America Stadium working out and going to meetings.
He'll find out on Wednesday if he's in football shape. Then it's up to the Panthers to decide if they want to activate him or not.
Regardless, Alexander is thankful the team stuck with him.
"They could have easily said, 'OK, we're done with Frank,' " Alexander said. "Without them and the support of my family, the people who was there with me, I couldn't have done it.
"I just felt I let a lot of them down and I want to get on the right track."