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Panthers at Ravens: Defensive Preview

Preseason game one is upon us, and along with it, the return of Panthers football! This defensive preview will be a little different from regular season versions, as it will focus exclusively on the Panthers, since preseason is mostly about battles on your own squad.

Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

Glorified practice? Guys whom we may never see again in a month? Who cares?!?! Football is back! You gotta treat this event like you’re Marty McFly in Back to the Future II. You know, at the end, where he thinks the Doc is lost forever, but then...

***SPOILERS AHEAD***

He gets a message from a guy at Western Union who has been waiting a long time to deliver it that says that the Doc is in the Old West... BUT ALIVE!

So kind of like this..

"Football is back! Football is back! I mean... it’s only preseason... but Football is back!"

... this is all of course before it hits you that you, like Marty, are about to have to wade through hours worth of shenanigans before you can actually get to the event that matters (getting back to the future in front of a train) in the form of regular season football.

If you don’t like my analogy, I suggest you watch (or re-watch) the Back to the Future trilogy and culture-ize yo’self. Fool.

Anyhow, the Panthers are taking a trip to Baltimore to face the Ravens, and it is not going to be the blood and guts version of the same game we watched 2 years ago, not by a long shot. Instead, we will get to watch young guys and fringe players battle it out for the right to continue their journey towards a possible spot on the 53-man roster, or a place on the practice squad. That’s right, being preseason game one almost guarantees the starters will see very little time, probably less than one quarter of action. Still there is plenty to watch defensively...

Defensive Line

No battle for starting position here. Those honors firmly rest on the massive shoulders of Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short on the interior, and ends Charles Johnson and Kony Ealy on the outsides. On the interior, we also don’t expect much movement on the roster amongst the depth. First round rookie Vernon Butler is a lock, Paul Soliai is a lock, and Kyle Love is pretty darn close to one as well. This leaves Eric Crume and Robert Thomas on the outside looking in, though they will get time to potentially impress enough to land on the practice squad. The excitement here revolves around the fact that Vernon Butler is going to get a lot of reps, and many are anxious to see what he can do with camp reports having mostly focused on the rookie corners.

The depth at end will be an interesting battle to watch. Wes Horton, Rakim Cox, and Larry Webster may potentially miss time, which opens the door for reps to guys like Arthur MileyRyan Delaire, and the freshest freshmeat... Tom lally, signed yesterday. Mario Addison is fairly assured a roster spot, but everything behind him is completely up for grabs in the eyes of many.

Linebackers

Like the D-Line, no starting position is up for grabs here. Luke Kuechly, Thomas Davis, and Shaq Thompson are entrenched, though the latter may see reps beyond the first quarter, potentially even at the nickel corner spot. Shaq Thompson by seemingly all accounts, is the best candidate for breakout player of the year this year, as he is having an all-time great camp so far. Behind them, A.J. Klein is firmly entrenched as the linebacker swingman, and will look to increase his value for free agency next year with solid play.

Behind those four, however, there are some interesting battles to play out. Last year’s fifth round pick, David Mayo, will look to show he is more than just a special teamer while fending off Ben Jacobs, who is reportedly having a great camp though may not play in this contest due to an ankle injury. He also faces competition from everyone’s favorite UDFA out of Duke in Jeremy Cash. Of the remaining group, keep an eye on Brian Blechen, who is likely to fit in with the 3rd team. He will be hoping to claim a practice squad spot.

Corners

And here we get to the meat and potatoes of pre-season storylines. Every spot is up for grabs, no one is being handed anything. Twitter has been a daily report of which player made a great INT or PBU on any given day. The three rookies, James Bradberry, Daryl Worley, and Zack Sanchez have each made their mark, and have been dubbed the "Three Amigos" even picking off a couple "REAL bullets" from Cam Newton. That said, Bene Benwikere is back and healthy after last season’s ankle injury, and figures to be firmly in the mix for a starting job.

Outside of the big names, you have some guys who are hungry to prove themselves. Last year when the depth got thin, Robert McClain came in and did a serviceable job plugging holes in our secondary. The coaches are on record as "liking" him, and you all know what that means when it comes to roster cutdown time. Beyond him, Lou Young is showing out favorably, and will look to potentially make the team. I have to believe his path to that will be through out-playing McClain, and he should get a lot of field time this Thursday. Teddy Williams rounds out the corner grouping, and so far, he is best known in camp for late hits and being unprofessional in general. Probably not a good sign for him.

Safeties

Kurt Coleman, fresh off a new contract after a superb 2015 season, finds himself as the leader of this young group, even though he is only a second year Panther himself. He is currently undergoing a position change to strong safety, with Tre Boston fitting in as the presumptive starter at the free safety position. Boston is coming in to that ever important make or break third season, and we should have a good indication of his ability to be a full time starter fairly quickly. Last season was very promising in his limited action.

Behind those two, it is hard to rule any one player totally out. Colin Jones is a coaches favorite, and it seems like he will probably make the team again unless someone else firmly takes hold of the nickel corner spot and can match his special teams value. Dean Marlowe is a name that keeps popping up throughout camp for positive plays, and for me he is the most interesting of the rest of the group followed closely by Trenton Robinson.