The Carolina Panthers host the New England Patriots this evening for the third preseason game of the 2016 NFL season. This will be the last time Panthers fans get to see Cam Newton and most of the starting unit until the Panthers travel to Denver for the season opener. The Panthers will begin to install their gameplan for the Broncos next week and play mainly backups and tryout players next Thursday.
That said, here are a few things to keep an eye on this evening.
Kelvin Benjamin’s progress: Benjamin has slowly been up to speed this offseason as he continues his conditioning and gets back into “game shape”. Ron Rivera was pleased with the progress Benjamin has made, but there is still work to do. Benjamin appears winded at times during practice which brings into doubt his ability to play a full game’s worth of reps.
Second String Offensive Line: Although they did show some improvement last week against Tennessee, the Carolina Panthers still are not fully convinced about this group, particularly the backup offensive tackles. Roster moves could be made as soon as next week when players begin to be released around the NFL in the first round of cuts.
Safety concerns: All of a sudden the Carolina Panthers are extremely thin at safety. Although starters Boston and Coleman appear to be playing well, injuries have caused some concern about the depth available. The Panthers are trying out safety Donte Whitner to help in this area. Also, don’t be shocked if you see rookie corner Daryl Worley slide out to free safety late in the game.
Kickoffs: Have you noticed the Carolina Panthers kickoffs have been, shall we say, less than stellar? In Tennessee the ball frequently never made it close to the end zone. Keep an eye on this tonight and next week as the Panthers look for a solution. Any future punters they try out may also be trying out for kickoff duty.
Byrd is indeed the word: Last week Damiere Byrd could have easily been the player of the game if QB Derek Anderson could have connected with him on a long touchdown play. Byrd would have ended with over 100 yard receiving and a touchdown in addition to a solid special teams showing. As of now, I would say Byrd has shown he has earned a roster position.
Can Worley rebound: You can bet that the New England Patriots watched last week’s game Carolina Panthers game. They no doubt saw corner Daryl Worley getting picked on early and often. As the Patriots continue to prepare backup QB Garoppolo to fill in for Tom Brady, Worley may be a target again this week. Bill Belichick would love to build up Garappolo’s confidence by picking on the rookie corner. Will Worley respond with a solid game this evening? Well, he showed his fighting spirit earlier this week in practice. Lets hope so.