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Keep an eye on Kelvin Benjamin's snap count, conditioning vs. Patriots

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The conditioning of Carolina Panthers wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin has been scrutinized the past few weeks.

Benjamin says he’s fine. Quarterback Cam Newton said it’s more about confidence than conditioning for the 2014 first-round pick.

But in the first two games, Benjamin has played a total of only 17 snaps -- nine against the Titans and eight against Baltimore.

His reps have been increased this week, and the Panthers would like to get Benjamin comfortable with 30 to 35 snaps by the Sept. 8 opener in Denver.

Assuming most of the starters won’t play in next week’s final preseason game, tonight’s game against New England will be the final chance for Benjamin to show he really is fine. The opportunity should be there, as starters are expected to play into the third quarter.

The Panthers certainly don’t want to see Benjamin stopping to catch his breath as he has a few times in the heat of camp in Spartanburg, South Carolina.

Here are four other things to keep an eye on during the 7:30 p.m. game at Bank of America Stadium:

Young guns III: Rookie cornerback James Bradberry hopes to face three-time Super Bowl MVP Tom Brady. "I heard ... he likes to pick on rookie defenders," Bradberry said. "It’s going to be a good test for me." Even if Brady plays, it’s doubtful it will be much. The Patriots want to get a good look at Jimmy Garoppolo against Carolina’s first-team defense since he’ll start the first four games while Brady serves a four-game suspension. But you’ve got to admire Bradberry’s bravado. Through the first two preseason games, the second-round pick out of Samford has shown worthy in coverage and run support of replacing 2015 Pro Bowl selection Josh Norman as a starter. But third-round draft pick Daryl Worley has had his ups and downs. Tennessee wide receiver Tajae Sharpe caught five passes for 62 yards against him last week. Coach Ron Rivera said afterwards that he would like to see Worley play the techniques better. The staff seems intent on Worley starting the opener, and a solid game against New England would ease any reservations. Perhaps you’ll even see Worley try the "Peanut Punch" that former Carolina cornerback Charles Tillman taught the new players this past week.

End of the line: Rivera admitted this week that it would be a fair assessment to say the fifth defensive end spot could come down to Wes Horton or Ryan Delaire. The Panthers know what they have in Horton, a proven run-stopper. Delaire remains a work in progress. He’s had breakdowns in containment the first two games. He didn’t have a sack or even a tackle last week against Tennessee. Though the Panthers are comfortable with starting ends Charles Johnson and Kony Ealy, the depth behind them remains a concern.

End of the road? Stephen Hill and Kevin Norwood are two of the most veteran receivers on Carolina’s roster. They also are on the outside looking in to make the cut to 53. The first five appear set with Benjamin, Ted Ginn Jr., Devin Funchess, Philly Brown and Brenton Bersin. Damiere Byrd could be the sixth as a receiver/return specialist. The Panthers won’t keep seven receivers, which means unless Hill or Norwood do something extra special against the Patriots, this could be their final audition in Carolina.

For kicks: Mike Scifres still appears to be the choice to replace Brad Nortman, but through the first two preseason games he hasn’t punted. He’s had a sore knee, so that’s not a huge surprise. The Panthers have 13 years of tape from San Diego to evaluate him. But if this truly is a dress rehearsal for the season, you would think Scifres would get a few opportunities to work on the timing with the rest of the punt team.