Salley, a fourth-round draft pick in 2006, worked as the first-team strong safety alongside during the team's three-day minicamp last month.
He's hoping to play well enough to convince coach John Fox and general manager Marty Hurney they don't need to breakout the checkbook and add a veteran from outside the organization to fill that role.
So far, the Panthers haven't made any moves.
Among the safeties available in free agency are Sammy Knight, Mike Logan, Tebucky Jones, William Bartee, Tony Parrish, Lance Schulters and Troy Vincent. The Panthers could make a move later in the summer when other teams begin to release players.
The Panthers were originally expected to address the safety position in the draft, but every time they were on the clock in the early rounds it would have been a reach to take a safety. Carolina did not address the safety position until the seventh-round when they took C.J. Wilson from Baylor.
That left the door open for Salley, who played in eight games last season almost exclusively on special teams, to have a shot at a starting job alongside veteran Mike Minter.
"It's a great opportunity for me -- an opportunity of a lifetime," Salley said.
Salley did nothing to hurt himself during minicamp, which is to say he didn't make any glaring errors. The Panthers will open a lengthier three-week minicamp on May 30.
"Definitely I feel like I need to show them something," Salley said. "I know the coaches have a lot of faith in me and I don't want to let anyone down."
That includes himself.
"I have goals and one of my goals is to be with the ones," Salley said. "Just to be out there with Mike Minter right now is like crazy to me. But I just keep getting into the playbook and making sure I have the mental part down. I prepared myself physically all off-season and I'm just trying to give myself the best shot to stay out there on the field."
Fox liked what he saw from Salley, but the Panthers are always looking for players they feel can improve the team.
"We have high hopes for him, there is no doubt," Fox said. "These practices are opportunities for everybody, whether you are a first-time college free agent or a draft pick or even a veteran who's trying to earn a spot. As I tell those guys, they pick the team; I don't. Their performance on the field will dictate that. Nate is a guy we have high regard for, and he's made progress in this minicamp."
Last year at this time the Panthers had high hopes for Salley. He worked mostly on the second team, but saw some action with the first unit in training camp after Minter took a leave of absence following the death of his mother. But Salley failed to make the final cut, the only one of Carolina's eight draft picks not to make the 53-man roster.
He cleared waivers and was signed to the practice squad, spending his days helping out where he could, even playing receiver for the scout team. Eventually, he was called up to the active roster and recorded three special teams tackles.
"That was tough," Salley said of being cut. "That showed me how much of a business this is because I had worked hard in camp and felt like I earned myself a spot on the team. Then to get cut was tough. It was a crazy season. But I tried to take as much positive as I could from the situation and learn from it. I watched the veterans like Mike Minter and Shaun Williams and tried to learn as much as I could."