I will be resuming my weekly key player matchups post, however in the preseason it can be difficult to truly forecast who will face one another each game. So, I will be providing the key players to watch for the Panthers, along with a few guys from the other team who could be intriguing.
The Panthers likely won't keep their number ones in for very long, especially anybody who is returning from injury like Kelvin Benjamin. With Philly Brown, Ted Ginn, and Devin Funchess all virtual locks to make the roster, that 5th receiver spot is very much up for grabs. There should be a high amount of reps dealt out to the backup receivers as a result. Brenton Bersin likely has the inside track to that spot, and we know that he can and will make some plays in the preseason. The relative unknown in Norwood should get a chance to really show how far he's progressed, and he's made some snags during camp so far. He should get a good deal of time with Derek Anderson and the more polished second unit. His work load and resulting production should be monitored with Damiere Byrd nipping at his heels for that spot. I think Byrd and Stephen Hill will see more time with Joe Webb and his third unit, where the second unit and the capable Derek Anderson should shine more.
The tight end situation has grown to be quite intriguing at the moment. Simonson hit the practice squad in 2015 before being called up and playing as the Panthers third TE to close out the season. He didn't do a whole lot as far as receiving in that department, but as camp has wore on Simonson has continued to make plays, so much so that it seems Rivera has already declared him a winner of a roster spot. I don't know if that's set in stone yet, but Simonson's experience in the system should give him a leg up on Beau Sandland and Braxton Deaver. Simonson still needs to make plays, and I think he will. But his performance and success will have a direct effect on the young and promising talent behind him.
The Three Amigos
I'm listing all three corners here, mainly because this will be the first live action they've seen and at least two of them are primed for a heavy workload right out the gate in the NFL. Currently, James Bradberry and Daryl Worley are listed as starters on the team's first unofficial depth chart. It'll be interesting to see how long those two are out there, because they definitely will benefit from the experience but how many do you give them and risk an injury? It's a tough call, for sure. As far as Zach Sanchez goes, I think he will get a heavy workload in nickel. He's still learning, and on the job training when it ultimately doesn't matter come week one is the best time. Monitoring their utilization and number of reps is certainly the biggest thing I will be watching.
By all accounts, Dean Marlowe is firmly entrenched as the third safety despite limited game time experience. This will be his chance to showcase the reasons why the coaching staff has so much faith in him. I expect the Panthers to limit Kurt Coleman's workload as a veteran and shove Marlowe in early, possibly with the ones and alongside Tre Boston. There isn't much reason to work Coleman too much in this game since he was a 16 game starter last year. Tre Boston could use the reps and I think it'll help Marlowe to work alongside him.
Currently listed as the third back on the depth chart, West has been the "most explosive offensive player" during camp. The Ravens were ravaged by injuries last season, with rookie Javorius Allen having to take the load at running back after Justin Forsett went down. Justin Forsett is primed to make his return to the field, but at 30 years old the Ravens could be looking for his eventual replacement. West should see plenty of action against the Panthers and he will be one to watch for potential carry over into the season.
With Terrell Suggs returning from an Achilles injury, Za'Darius Smith is currently listed as the starter for the Ravens. Come week one the Ravens should be starting Suggs, but this is Smith's time to shine with the opportunity to play with the ones while Suggs rests up. Smith was a 4th round pick out of Kentucky last year who looks to become a pass rusher in their scheme. The Ravens will probably move him around to see where he can be productive.
Who are you watching, Panther fans?