By nature we have a tendency to put too much stock in the players we'll see regularly in the fall, however during any tough NFL season injuries are bound to occur, and it's here that depth becomes of vital importance. Today we're looking at five backup players to watch tonight in the hopes they'll separate themselves from the pack.
Louis Murphy, Wide Receiver
Based on the consistent stream of "We should sign ____" discussions this off-season it's clear fans were hoping for an upgrade at the WR position. Concurrently, it seems the front office were equally concerned as they brought in a cadre of UDFA receivers, and made the trade right before camp to bring in Louis Murphy.
Last week the slot receiver caught two passes of 20+ yards, and looked to be the deep threat the Panthers have been looking to pair with Steve Smith and Brandon LaFell. As it stands he's fighting for the 3WR job with Seyi Ajirotutu, and David Gettis will be added to the discussion also when he's finally healthy. This is Murphy's chance to put his stamp on the position and win it outright; a good performance tonight will work wonders for his chances.
More after the jump
Bruce Campbell, Offensive Tackle
The surprise stud this preseason was a player acquired in an earlier trade with the Oakland Raiders. Working primarily as Jordan Gross' backup, Bruce Campbell has looked devastating at the LT spot, working against very good pass rushers. Tonight he'll get another chance to see a 3-4 defensive front, and we can hope he performs as well as he did last week against Houston.
There are myriad reasons why a big game from Campbell is important, but perhaps the most vital angle is what he can add to the starting lineup. Thus far Byron Bell looks much improved at the RT spot, but he isn't so entrenched that anyone should be willing to hang their hat on him. Last season he performed as well as any UDFA asked to start at RT should, but it's nice to have some insurance. It remains to be seen where he fits into the plan long-term, but hopefully we'll see another special performance.
Frank Alexander, Defensive End
A draft-day trade was enough to wake up Panther fans in a cold sweat as they imagined the Everette Brown deal from Carolina's past. This was a different situation though. The consensus was that the Panthers 'reached' for Alexander, whilst Brown was a 'steal' in 2009; that alone should allay some fears. Alexander is an athletic, long, gifted DE who failed to show his full complement of abilities last week.
The need for pass rushers is dire, and it appears the Panthers will be rolling the dice and hoping their young players can develop. The Oklahoma DE did a good job sealing the edge in the run game last week, but failed to flash as a pass rusher. If he hopes to justify the trade that brought him to Carolina, and satiate an already wary fanbase he'll need to step up tonight.
Armanti Edwards, Wide Receiver
At this stage the former Appalachian State star is running out of rope. Nobody denies he was thrust into a terrible situation in 2010, and arguably never should have been asked to change position, but the NFL isn't fair sometimes, and he'll need to make the most with the lot he's been cast. There have been flashes of that speed, and agility we were sold on when the Panthers moved up in the 2010 draft, but thus far it has been a failed experiment.
Joe Adams is the team's punt returner, Kealoha Pilares plays the role of incumbent kick returner– meanwhile AE is left in the cold. If he hopes to make the roster this fall he'll need to turn on the jets and prove he can be an effective slot receiver right now. There are three preseason games left, and this is it for Armanti.
Sione Fua, Defensive Tackle
With a year under his belt it's time for the second year NT to take the necessary step needed. Both Fua and fellow third round pick Terrell McClain have had lackluster beginnings to their career, but with Andre Neblett suspended due to his use of PEDs, and a severe lack of depth at the position, they'll have chances to prove they're ready to move forward.
The ire of fans has been directly at Fua for a while now, making him the bellwether for all the woes at the DT position. While this is somewhat deserved, it tends to get lost in the shuffle that defensive tackles take time to develop, and the fact the Panthers are leaning on such raw players is a product of their lack of preparation, not the DT's. However, much like Armanti Edwards, this is their lot. While Sione has considerably more rope to work with than AE (being one of Rivera's guys helps), that doesn't mean he'll be met with everlasting patience. If the Panthers, and Fua plan to make him the starting NT when Ron Edwards inevitably leaves the team, then he needs to step up and perform now
What about you Panthers fans? Is there another non-starter who you're hoping will shine tonight at BoA Stadium?