It's that time of year when, for certain players, a handful of plays can be the difference as to whether a player on the bubble makes the team or not. Sunday night's victory against the Jets provided just that opportunity and several players took advantage. Here's five players who I think helped the coaches with some decision-making in their performance against the Jets.
TE Gary Barnidge - Even with the release of Jeremy Shockey the Panthers still had two TEs and two FBs on the roster not including Barnidge. Does the Panthers scheme in 2012 really need three TE's if a FB could fulfill the same role? Barnidge only caught two balls for 44 yards against the Jets but he made them count. The first was a 43 yarder showed showed Barnidge has a nice combo of size and speed and could fill in for TE Greg Olsen if needed. The other catch was a 1 yd TD showing he knows how to run routes in the red zone. He now leads the Panthers in receiving yards for the preseason with 94 yards on 5 catches. Barnidge has flashed enough big play potential and ability to warrant a roster spot.
S Reggie Smith - Just when I was ready to count Smith out he stepped up with some big plays against the Jets. Obviously his 4th quarter INT was huge and stopped what could have been a game winning drive. He also added two tackles, 2 passes knocked down and made two ST tackles. That is just the type of diversity and flexibility the Panthers want in their back-ups. It's a tough call at this point between Smith and Jordan Pugh.
DE Thomas Keiser - If there was any question Keiser will make the roster it has been erased this preseason. He added another 1.5 sacks against the Jets bringing his preseason total to 3.5 (tied for 1st in NFL). In fact I warrant Keiser should be in the regular rotation and see some 3rd down snaps right away. For a guy who looks to be giving up too much weight to get past NFL left tackles he is doing just that. Granted he is doing against back-ups so far but he did the same last year as a rookie. Put the kid in coach!
WR Louis Murphy - Though I think Murphy is a pretty solid lock to make the roster the big question is how much does he get on the field? We already know the Panthers rarely run 3 WR sets so whether he will actually get on the field is a legit question. Murphy recorded three catches for only 16 yards against the Jets but one went for a TD. He now has 7 for 87 yards a TD in the preseason showing he can be a reliable target when the regular season starts.
RB Armond Smith - After Smith's 11 for 34 yard performance against the Jets he now has 65 yards total on 19 carries for a 3.4 ypc average. He's not exactly lighting it up but I will say he has shown nice vision on when to cut back. Since I expect Jonathan Stewart to only miss a couple weeks the injury should not effect the Panthers decision-making on RBs. The question is with Tolbert in the stable do the Panthers need three RBs? I think seeing Stewart get dinged makes this question easier to answer in the 'affirmative'. Though I think Smith played fairly well against the Jets I'm not sure he offers the big play opportunity they want from the 3rd string RB.