Coach Ron Rivera held out just about all of his starters and it showed. Charlie Batch and Pittsburgh’s offense went right through Carolina’s defense for a touchdown on the first drive of the night. But let’s keep in mind this wasn’t Carolina’s rebuilt -- and healthy -- first-team defense.
Veteran backup Derek Anderson got the start at quarterback and played the first half. Jimmy Clausen replaced him. The Panthers already have decided Anderson will be Cam Newton's backup. I've been back and forth on whether or not the Panthers should even keep Clausen, a second-round draft pick in 2010, on the roster. After watching Clausen in extended playing time, I say keep him around. Clausen wasn't flawless, but he showed more than I've seen out of him in a long time (maybe since his Notre Dame days). He led the Panthers on a long touchdown drive on his first series. He also threw a long touchdown pass in the fourth quarter. I had been thinking the Panthers might be better off letting Clausen go, keeping only two quarterbacks on the active roster and bringing in a developmental project on the practice squad. But I think Clausen showed he still has some upside. I'd keep him around, just in case something happens to Newton or Anderson. If it does, I'd rather see Clausen than some developmental guy.
The Panthers have gone to great lengths to improve the special teams. But I think there’s still reason for concern. It was negated by a penalty, but Pittsburgh’s Chris Rainey had what should have been a 78-yard punt return for a touchdown.
One guy who continues to impress me is defensive end Thomas Keiser. He’s done some good things earlier in the preseason and he did it again against the Steelers. Keiser swatted down a Batch pass at the line of scrimmage. I think Keiser’s emergence was a big reason why Eric Norwood was released earlier in the week.
I think receiver Joe Adams makes the team, mostly because the team used a fourth-round pick on him. But I think the Panthers might go slowly with Adams, who was a contender for some work as a return man. But I think Adam’s muffed punt return and lost fumble could prompt the Panthers to bring him along slowly. He did have a 20-yard punt return at the end of the first half.
Speaking of rookie receivers, it’s going to be difficult to cut undrafted free agent Jared Green. He had a nice training camp and caught a touchdown pass from Clausen on Thursday night. I think the numbers make it almost impossible to keep Green on the 53-man roster. But I think he’s a strong candidate for the practice squad.
The quick conclusion when the Panthers released veteran Olindo Mare was that Justin Medlock would be their kicker. He still might be. But Medlock missed two field-goal attempts on Thursday. Neither was a chip shot, but you still have to wonder if the Panthers might watch the waiver wire for kickers.