The Panthers opened the preseason with a Thursday evening tilt with the Baltimore Ravens, and it was evident from the start the main mission would be to shuffle the first team players to the side lines as soon as possible. The major guys—Cam Newton, Luke Kuechly, Thomas Davis, etc.—were off the field after a single series.
The opening series on both offense and defense were positive experiences for the Panthers, as Newton led the offense on a meticulous drive that ended with a Graham Gano field goal. The one knock on the opening series for the offense was the lack of a touchdown due to Newton overthrowing Ted Ginn, Jr. in the end zone, but I firmly believe had it been a regular season game, the result would have been different (i.e. - there wouldn’t have been two straight carries by Cameron Artis-Payne preceding that Newton pass to Ginn).
The defense also made the most of their brief time on the field, forcing a three and out by the Ravens offense. Granted, they were facing Ryan Mallett, but the first team defense looked sharp nonetheless and gave themselves plenty of momentum to build on going forward.
And then the second team came in.
This is the Monday Morning Optimist, so I’m going to try and be as positive as I can, but to put it nicely... things didn’t go as expected for the second unit. The one bright spot for the 2nd team defense was they won the turnover battle, and while most of their performance left something to be desired, it was nice to see them forcing turnovers and giving the offense opportunities to win the game.
The second team offense, despite not being able to put many points on the board, looked pretty decent for the most part. The backup offensive line left a lot to be desired, but I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt and call their struggles a case of shaking off the rust.
Despite the struggles of the o-line, there were a few guys who stood out in a good way. Brenton Bersin and Damiere Byrd both showed they deserve a closer look for a roster spot, and Stephen Hill also had a few quality plays in limited action.
Devin Funchess scored a touchdown in the 2nd quarter, but other than that it was Graham Gano doing all the scoring for the Panthers, who ended the night with 19 points. The downside to this was they allowed the Ravens to score 22 points, which means the Panthers lost the game. But, on the bright side, there were no major injuries, which is all you can really ask for in the first preseason game.
What I liked...
Brenton Bersin — Extremely Optimistic
Love him or hate him, Bersin played his butt off tonight and showed that he deserves serious consideration for one of the last few spots on the WR depth chart. He caught 5 passes for 69 yards for an average of 13.8 yards per reception, and more importantly — he didn’t make any mistakes with the football. If he can piece together more performances like this one, he’s going to make the team.
Graham Gano — Extremely Optimistic
He was 4 for 4 tonight and scored all but 6 of the Panthers points. I’d say that’s a pretty good night.
Cam Newton — Very Optimistic
He only played one series, but he made it count. Newton ended the night 5/6 for 36 yards, and should have been 6/6 with a touchdown but he slightly overthrew Ginn in the end zone and forced the offense to settle for a field goal. That one overthrow keeps him out of the extremely optimistic column, but overall he had a great game.
Oh, and he also cost A.J. Klein a pick six, which wasn’t cool at all.
Damiere Byrd — Very Optimistic
Byrd was also in the extremely optimistic group until that muffed punt in the 4th quarter. You can’t do that and expect to make the 53-man roster, Damiere. For the most part, he looked good returning kicks and even made a sick catch near the sideline for a 35 yard gain. If he keeps that up, he’s going to give the coaching staff a tough decision to make concerning his roster placement.
What I didn’t like...
2nd Team Defense — Extremely Pessimistic
To put it kindly, there’s a lot of work that needs to be done here. The tackling was sloppy at times and nonexistent at others, and they made Terrance West look like Adrian Peterson. On the bright side, there’s nowhere else to go but up. Hopefully they’re able to do that next week against the Titans.
2nd Team Offensive Line — Extremely Pessimistic
The blocking was bad, y’all. So bad that we might need to wrap the first team O-Line in bubble wrap just to be safe.
Panthers Penalties — Very Pessimistic
Get that stuff cleaned up, guys. I know it was just the first preseason game, but some of those penalties were just flat out unacceptable.
Cameron Artis-Payne & Brandon Wegher — Somewhat Pessimistic
For the most part they weren’t bad, but they weren’t good either. They’re supposed to be competing with each other for the last RB spot on the roster, and so far neither one of them have shown they really want that spot. Hopefully this was mostly the fault of the poor blocking in front of them, which is one reason I’m somewhat pessimistic instead of very pessimistic.
Swayze Waters — Somewhat Pessimistic
I know that for the most part his job was to use directional punting, but he wasn’t very good at it last night. I’m assuming Mike Scifres will get an opportunity to punt next week, but Waters didn’t make a statement like he probably should have and it could cost him a roster spot.
The Panthers will make a Saturday afternoon trip to Nashville, where they will take on Marcus Mariota and the Titans in the second game of the preseason.