The 2019 preseason is over and the regular season is just around the corner. The Panthers have debuted a brand new defensive scheme, held an ‘open’ competition for their highly relevant back up quarterback position, and developing interest in a new kicker. As preseasons go, this year has been eventful.
The backup quarterback job has not been as pitched as we were led to believe. Kyle Allen came into the preseason with a clear inside lane on that number two job. That was made clear by last night’s game when he played one series and surrendered the rest of the game to Will Grier and Taylor Heinicke. Grier has an obvious claim to the third and final possible roster spot for the regular season as a third round draft pick from this year. That leaves Heinicke as the odd man out just a year after he won the back up job in camp.
We won’t call him or anyone else a loser tonight. The fourth preseason game is a slog fought for a very small number of jobs that often has more to do with team needs than individual effort. Heinicke was statistically, and often just actually, the best quarterback in the preseason but he is going to be the odd man out in Carolina. Quin Blanding had a solid preseason but got hurt; that is enough to probably bounce him out of any consideration on cut day tomorrow. These guys aren’t losers, so tonight we are going to talk about the three winners and Will Grier.
Marquis Haynes: This guy has been an underrated force all preseason. The Panthers switch to a 3-4 defense couldn’t have come at a better time for the second year edge rusher. He logged two sacks, a tackle for loss, and three quarterback hits in last night’s game alone. Translated to regular season math, that is basically a whole sack. Depth players often contribute far less in an average game.
Efe Obada: Obada’s preseason has not been as statistically eye opening as Haynes’, but he has been the star of a number of effort highlights this year. Playing everywhere from an outside linebacker in a pass rushing capacity to a defensive end in some of the Panthers 3-4 looks, Obada has been the first name off everyone’s lips as most improved defensive players from 2018. Obada was often seen as an edge of roster player who might not even make it to his Week 6 home game in London. That worry seems to be in the distant past now as Obada seems to be a staple facet of the Panthers front seven.
Joey Slye: An all but perfect kicker in the preseason often translates for other teams to a job as their kicker in the regular season. Slye’s ‘but’ in this scenario was a blocked 48 yarder that came when the Steelers got significant penetration against Slye’s protection. The ‘often’ in this scenario is a reference to the baffling decision by this team to ultimately waive the talented, young Harrison Butker in lieu of the technically extant Graham Gano. The difference this year might be Gano’s mysteriously lingering injury. The team hoped he would be able to kick the rust off of his leg last night, but now reports have the team considering placing him on injured reserve.
Slye is an absolute winner of this preseason because, even if Gano pops up healthy as a lamb tomorrow, he has probably earned a shot with another kicker-needy team such as the Chicago Bears. Don’t be surprised to see him on the Panthers 53-man roster on Sunday. Just keep your fingers crossed that he is the only kicker there, if so.
Will Grier: the roller coaster of quality and talent in the NFL preseason has never been more accurately described than by Grier’s performances this year. Rivera has put a lot of Grier’s struggles down to his splitting reps through training camp and practices three ways with Heinicke and Allen. It’s hard to develop when you don’t get the time to do so.
Grier flashed enough talent around his struggles this preseason to show why the Panthers drafted him in the third round. He also flashed enough ‘what are you doing?!’ moments to prove he is not ready to be one snap away from prime time. He could be the quarterback of the (distant) future and he could easily be the no-worries back up of the future. For now, he’s solidly entrenched as QB3 and showing just the amount of upside you want to see from that position given the limits of a 53-man roster.