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Pro football: Former Sooners defensive end Frank Alexander making strides with Panthers

Similar to his early days at OU, Alexander has experienced invaluable lessons as a rookie.
BY MIKE BALDWIN, Staff Writer, mbaldwin@opubco.com Published: September 18, 2013
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photo - NFL FOOTBALL: Carolina Panthers rookie defensive end Frank Alexander stops to sign an autograph for a fan as he walked to the team's practice fields to begin rookie minicamp drills in Charlotte, North Carolina, Friday, May 11, 2012. (Jeff Siner/Charlotte Observer/MCT) ORG XMIT: 1122822
NFL FOOTBALL: Carolina Panthers rookie defensive end Frank Alexander stops to sign an autograph for a fan as he walked to the team's practice fields to begin rookie minicamp drills in Charlotte, North Carolina, Friday, May 11, 2012. (Jeff Siner/Charlotte Observer/MCT) ORG XMIT: 1122822

The next two years there were limited highlights. His sophomore year, Alexander played behind established veterans Auston English and Jeremy Beal. His junior season, a high ankle sprain suffered during two-a-days hampered him much of the year.

His senior year, Alexander was dominant. He led the Big 12 with 8.5 sacks and 19 tackles for loss. He also recorded 54 tackles and batted down six passes.

Two years later, Alexander is carving out a reserve role behind Hardy and Johnson, who combined for 23.5 sacks last season. With players like Alexander coming off the bench, Carolina's D-line was selected the No. 1 unit on the team by the Charlotte Observer.

“They do a really good job with their rotation,” Buffalo coach Doug Marrone told the Charlotte Observer. “You have to spend a lot of (practice) time making sure they don't take over a game. That front seven probably is under the radar, but people are starting to take notice.”

As for the big picture, Carolina is off to a hard-luck 0-2 start.

The Panthers led Seattle 7-6 in the opener but lost 12-7. Last week, Buffalo scored with: 02 left to rally for a 24-23 win, the only time the Bills led other than a 3-0 early lead.

“We just need everybody to work together, be on the same page, believe in each other,” Alexander said. “If we come together as a team we can accomplish a lot.”

How soon the Panthers evolve into a viable playoff contender in large part revolves around quarterback Cam Newton, the first player in 60 years to win the Heisman Trophy, win the national championship and be the first overall pick of the draft.

Newton dazzled as a rookie, throwing for 4,051 yards and 21 touchdowns and running for 706 yards and 14 TDs. He compiled another solid season a year ago. But after averaging around 300 yards total offense his first two seasons Newton is averaging only 200 the first two games.

“He's works extremely hard every day and is a great leader,” Alexander said. “He's got some experience now. He knows what it takes to win games. Cam wants to win as much as anybody. Those are the type of players you want to surround yourself with.”

Carolina is trying to avoid a second consecutive disastrous start. A year ago, the Panthers started 1-6 and were 2-8 the week before Thanksgiving. Carolina, though, won five of its final six, highlighted by a season-ending four-game winning streak to finish 7-9.

“It showed everyone on this team what we're capable of,” Alexander said. “Everyone here believes in what we're doing. We made a lot of steps in the offseason. We just have to put it all together.”