Byron Bell feels the 'hate' from fans


CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Byron Bell believes there's a large group of Carolina Panthers fans who dislike him, based on the way he has been heckled since giving up 3½ sacks last season against Buffalo.

He believes many hate him not only for those sacks but because he's an unknown from a non-traditional football school who now has the most high-profile job on the Panthers' offensive line. Bell doesn't like the scorn, but he chalks it up to human nature.

"People are people," Carolina's new left tackle said. "People hate on Jesus. ... The man walked on water and they still didn't like him. I'm not comparing myself to our Lord and savior, but I'm just telling you that's how people are."

The 6-foot-5, 340-pound Bell has an underdog story you'd think fans would embrace. He still drives a used truck -- which he doesn't even use on game days. He is known to walk to games at Bank of America Stadium and stop to talk to fans or take pictures with them if they ask. He gave his size 17 cleats to a fan every other practice during training camp in Spartanburg, South Carolina, and stopped to sign autographs every day.

He arrived in Carolina in 2011 as an undrafted rookie out of New Mexico. He was forced into the starting lineup at right tackle when Jeff Otah was injured. Bell kept that job for most of three seasons. When left tackle Jordan Gross retired, Bell earned the right to replace him by beating out Nate Chandler. Bell prepared by trimming 15 pounds and going to Ohio to work with his former boxing coach to improve his footwork.

Bell will protect quarterback Cam Newton's blind side this season, which means scrutiny from fans and the media will be considerable. The ridicule could intensify. But Panthers coach Ron Rivera is in his corner.

"He really is a likable guy," Rivera said. "I wish people would try to understand the situation and circumstances in which he came into this league. I don't think he's been given a fair shake."

Rivera understands. He felt hated at times when he played linebacker for the Chicago Bears.

"I've been the guy that has been blamed, 'Ah, hell, he got beat for a touchdown,'" Rivera said. "Then you put the tape on and you sit down and the coach goes, 'Hey Ron, nice job trying to pick up that guy that was somebody else's.'"

Rivera is passionate about this. He believes in his players and stands up for them, particularly when he feels they've been wronged.

He believes Bell has been wronged, and refers again to the Buffalo game in Week 2.

"Some of it was him, some of it was another player, some of it was on the quarterback," Rivera said. "This is a team game, and people have to understand that."

Rivera wishes people could get to know the Bell he knows.

"I just like his personality," he said. "He's a fun-loving guy. He's low-key. He's mellow. He's not gregarious. He's not out there. I think people mistake that."

The criticism has hardened Bell to a degree. It also has driven him to become better. He has become better, and will be rewarded as a free agent next season for it.

"I'm not satisfied until it's my last snap in the National Football League," Bell said. "My biggest fear is getting cut. I feel like if I keep working I'll be here for a while, but I'm never satisfied.

"Naysayers are going to say what they want. The only people that matter in my life are God, my family and this team. At the end of the day, I'm fine."