There is no better time to see the juxtaposition between the NFL's 'haves' and 'have-nots' then week four of the preseason. For the starters it's a free trip to Pittsburgh, a chance to rest up before the grueling NFL season, and perhaps to grab one of those insane Primanti Brothers sandwiches with french fries on them -- a truly brilliant but maniacal concoction from the Steel City, but I digress.
While those veterans get to treat the game as a walk through, to the guys who managed to just slide through first cuts, this is their Superbowl. Whether it's an undrafted free agent aware that this is their best chance to fill their NFL dreams, or aging veterans looking for their last hurrah, this is the most important game of the year. In the case of the Carolina Panthers we don't have any long-term veterans on the bubble, as Carolina remains one of the NFL's youngest teams. Today we're looking at a group of young players who need to really prove themselves in Pittsburgh if they hope to make the roster.
Two men will enter the Pitt, one man will leave. With the revelation of David Gettis hitting the PUP list, the two receiver's careers have become inexorably linked. One receiver will make the 53, the other will be cut outright, because neither is practice squad eligible.
What do the Panthers do? They have one receiver in Edwards who is small, shifty, and offers utility in multiple roles; but he's been replace two-fold by Kealoha Pilares and Joe Adams. Then you have Ajirotutu, a player who fits the archetype for an NFL receiver better, but who hasn't shown much this preseason. The emotional response is to have Edwards make the roster, capturing the hearts and minds of the coaching staff in a huge 11th hour push, but the logical answer is that Seyi will still be here in a few days. I don't pretend to understand the attraction, but it's undeniable that the coaching staff have given ample reps to Ajirotutu over this preseason. Ultimately this is a 6 week job until Gettis is healthy, and I get the feeling Seyi has the inside track.
More after the jump
In the last depth chart update one of the more notable moves was to have Bruce Campbell move to backup RT behind Byron Bell, as he's been couched behind Jordan Gross for much of the preseason. Campbell has been a standout in training camp and preseason, while Byron Bell struggled a lot against the New York Jets.
Should Campbell play well against Pittsburgh there wont be much of a safety net under Bell for that starting RT spot, and it's possible we'll see a shift before week one.
The decision to place Brandon Hogan on IR changed the complexion of the CB battle, but as it stands the Panthers are still carrying too many. Josh Thomas and R.J. Stanford have unexpectedly raised their game this off-season, and now have thrust themselves into the 53 conversation, where once it was easy to write them off. Butler finds himself the odd-man-out of sorts. He's hardly old at just 26, but with a continuing movement towards the young and coach-able there's a good chance Butler -- who was a stop-gap solution at CB -- parts ways with the Panthers.
Chances are high the defense will play at most one series, which will give Butler ample time, presumably as the 2nd corner off the bench (after Josh Norman). This is a chance for him to prove himself before cuts on Friday.
4. Reggie Smith
Once thought to be a competitor for the starting safety, quickly it became clear that the Panthers were more interested in Smith as a ST and depth player. He had a rather unremarkable start to the preseason, but against the Jets he really made waves. The pass he intercepted from Tim Tebow was fine, but the pass breakups at the end of the game were wholly impressive, and he has ST experience. Like Darius Butler this is his chance to separate himself from the pack, and make the 53.
5. Ben Hartsock
The Panthers 3rd TE was brought in last year for his blocking ability as a player to pair with Jeremy Shockey. Since that time Carolina traded for Greg Olsen, and Gary Barnidge has returned from injury. There is significant value in keeping him on the roster for jumbo packages, and as a goal line blocker; but one has to wonder how much of that utility is now taken by Mike Tolbert. This will be the last chance for Hartsock to solidify his place on the 53, and if he can show more ability as a pass catcher it will do wonders for his chances.
Which other backups do you think need to be watched tomorrow night?