The first roster trim down from 80 players to 75 has to occur by this Tuesday (9/1). At this point, I think we've all probably picked out a guy here or there that we think the Panthers will cut. Or maybe there's someone who's managed to catch our eye that we're hoping sticks. Regardless, this first round of cuts usually focuses on releasing players the coaching staff expects to not only eliminate from their final roster, but more specifically, guys they no longer need to evaluate any further and which they believe will no longer help them prepare the rest of the team to get ready for the season.
In other words, there are some players the coaches expect NOT to make the final roster, but they choose to keep them around because they need the extra bodies in training camp to help run the second and third units while practicing. They also keep guys they want to further evaluate for possible inclusion on the practice squad. And finally, coaches sometimes keep a few guys around they know won't make the team, but still give them this extra preseason game and training camp experience to further showcase their talents for scouts from other teams in the event they can still pursue their NFL careers elsewhere.
So, given all that, what 5 players do you expect the Panthers to jettison before Tuesday? Here's my take, after the cut:
Here's a partial list of guys who were healthy, but didn't play at all in Saturday's game vs. the Ravens. They also look look expendable due to other players distinguishing themselves at the same position:
TE Andrew Davie
WR Marcus Monk
Now, I think we keep Hunter Cantwell into next week to further evaluate him for the practice squad. Same goes for Gerald Cadogan. Both have value, and though it might be difficult to sneak them onto the practice squad, it's worth the attempt even if we can't find room for them on the active roster.
The other guys don't have that luxury. Andrew Davie is playing behind Jeff King, Dante Rosario, and Gary Barnidge. We're already trying to figure out if we'll keep 3 TEs. So forget about a 4th. Davie probably goes unless they just want to keep him around as an extra body in training camp to spell guys during practice.
Meanwhile, WRs Larry Beavers and Marcus Monk are way down the depth chart at their positions. Beavers had a shot as a possible return man. He's a rookie that we could target for the practice squad, too, but it's probably wiser to let him go now, because we're going to be using reps in training camp and this last preseason game to settle on Mike Goodson, Ryne Robinson, Kenny Moore, or Captain Munnerlyn for that role. So best to part ways now. And, if Beavers is still available when we settle our final roster, we can offer him a spot on the practice squad then.
Lastly, among the big guys, we have DT Lorenzo Williams and C Keith Gray who have become expendable. Our duties at the C position are most likely taken up by Ryan Kalil and MacKenzy Bernadeau anyway. And even Jeff King is available to serve as an emergency C if we need him. Whereas, Lorenzo Williams is also at the bottom of the depth chart behind a lot of other "sub-par" DTs right now, whose backup capabilities we keep questioning, much less imagining them as starters. So Williams is likely gone in this first cut. Another DT will possibly follow as soon as we can bring in a veteran replacement via trade or pick up someone waived by another team.
That means, I think one possible grouping of 5 players to cut could include: Larry Beavers, Andrew Davie, Keith Gray, Marcus Monk, and Lorenzo Williams. But that's 4 offensive players and only 1 defensive player. Maybe that makes sense. After all, we're pretty set on offense and we know who we're going to use. But defense is still a big question mark and the coaches might want more time with all of those players before deciding the final roster. But, just because these guys didn't play in last night's game against the Ravens, doesn't mean they'll be the first ones to go. After all, it's entirely possible some players who DID see time against the Ravens performed poorly enough that it'll sway the coaches against keeping them. Here's a couple of players I saw who might fall into that category:
LB Kelvin Smith
WR Ryne Robinson
Kelvin Smith is the LB who was supposed to have containment on that 48-yard run in the 4th quarter that allowed the Ravens to run out the clock. He got completely lost behind the D-lineman in front of him and was out of position to make a play as the Baltimore RB went right past him and into the secondary down the sideline. He's also playing at a position where we're super-loaded right now. And, if there's any second- or third-string LB the coaches want to further evaluate, I think it'll be Jeremy Leman before Kelvin Smith.
Also, Leman has distinguished himself so much in practice and the preseason games that he may even pose a challenge now to unseating Landon Johnson. Some early pre-game reports had Landon Johnson sitting this game out (because he didn't practice), but I'm fairly certain I saw him in the game. And he whiffed badly while trying to tackle a RB who caught a dump-off pass over the middle. Landon Johnson has also had a lot of time to add value for the Panthers and he's never lived up to the success he had at Cincinnati. It might be worth cutting him in favor of someone like Leman.
Lastly, we come to Ryne Robinson. He's quickly become expendable because of Mike Goodson's ability to handle kickoffs. Goodson seems to have better breakaway speed and he's one of those rare game-breaking types of players. We haven't had that on special teams in awhile now. In addition, Captain Munnerlyn flashed some serious skill at being a PR guy. He also has more speed, but both he and Goodson need to work on ball security. We also used Kenny Moore last night for PR duty. He never had to return any, though, as they both sailed into the endzone. Nevertheless, we've got viable options to takeover Ryne's special teams contribution. In addition, Ryne was already looking at a possible WR4 slot behind Smith, Muhammad, and Jarrett. Goodson and Moore now enter that mix and they're both showing themselves capable in that regard. Given that, the coaches might feel now is the time to release Ryne Robinson so they can focus on coaching the other guys to fulfill all of those roles for us. Plus, if we use Goodson as a WR4 (or WR5 behind Kenny Moore), that may help free up another roster spot to keep an extra FB or TE...something we may very well want to do given the success of Tony Fiammetta, Dante Rosario, and Gary Barnidge. Personally, I think we keep Ryne Robinson at least until the next roster cuts just so we can keep evaluating everyone. But his days may be marked now. And I'll bet he knows it. So, it'll be interesting to see how he reacts against Pittsburgh.
Of course, some of this picture may still change if the Panthers decide they don't need as many big bodies on the O-line or D-line among the backups they're carrying right now. But, I suspect we'll keep a lot of them to help spell the summer heat at Spartanburg and to take some of the load off the guys who WILL make the final roster. We could also make a trade involving some veteran players for a decent DT before opening day. And, if that happens, it'll determine who we need to bring up from behind whoever we package in such a trade. But for now, I think we'll drop some of the players listed above in this first cut. Then, the second one will offer the ultimate ruling on September 5th.