Panthers' Josh Norman enters concussion protocol with head injury

The Carolina Panthers held out most of their key starters in Thursday night’s preseason finale at Pittsburgh to assure none were hurt, but opted to play cornerback Josh Norman.

In hindsight, that may have been a mistake by coach Ron Rivera, who said he played Norman because he was thin at corner.

Norman suffered a head injury, and Rivera said on his postgame radio show that the cornerback has entered the concussion protocol heading into the Sept. 13 opener at Jacksonville.

A player typically needs five to seven days to gain clearance, so having 10 days to recover makes a return more probable.

But remember, Norman missed two games last season because of a concussion.

The fourth-year player out of Coastal Carolina is the closest the Panthers have to a shutdown corner. The last thing you want to do in the preseason finale is get a key player injured. So stay tuned.

Here are some other quick thoughts on the Panthers’ 23-6 victory over the Steelers to wrap up a 3-1 preseason:

One reason to freak out: For those that freaked out when the Panthers released all-time leading rusher DeAngelo Williams, now wearing a Pittsburgh uniform, relax. Carolina is deeper at running back than a year ago with Williams. Behind starter Jonathan Stewart is Cameron Artis-Payne, Fozzy Whittaker, Jordan Todman and Brandon Wegher. They combined for 205 yards rushing in the first half. Unfortunately for Carolina, one or two will have to go in final cuts. Wegher, an undrafted rookie, is the likely candidate. But it wouldn’t surprise if it was Todman despite his role as a kickoff returner.

QB depth chart: Cam Newton didn’t play, but that’s not a surprise. Newton hasn’t played in the preseason finale since his rookie season in 2011. Backup Derek Anderson, who on Wednesday signed a two-year extension, was his usual steady self with four completions on seven attempts. Joe Webb continued to make a case for Carolina keeping three quarterbacks even if it’s a luxury. He had a touchdown pass and a rating of 117.6.

Who got hurt? As mentioned above, Norman left after one series with a head injury. Backup cornerback Teddy Williams later suffered a groin injury and did not return. If either of these is serious enough that one or both has to miss a game, it will impact cuts on Saturday.

A player who looks amazing: I won’t say amazing, but reserve defensive end Rakim Cox at least gave the staff something to think about with two sacks, giving him three in the preseason. Cox likely won’t make the 53-man roster, but for a defense built around pressuring the quarterback with the front four you sure hate letting speed-rushers go.

Rookie watch: Rookie wide receiver Devin Funchess only had two catches for 22 yards, but he showed enough flash after missing two games with a hamstring injury to make you believe he’ll be a major factor. His second-quarter catch from Joe Webb in traffic was particularly impressive. He used his hands and pulled in a pass thrown slightly behind him with the defender bearing down.

Not-so special: Remember how much emphasis was put on special teams during the offseason and in training camp? There was a blocked punt and Damiere Byrd had two muffled punts. Granted, backup personnel was in for the block and Byrd is a practice squad candidate. But after a disastrous year on special teams last season these aren’t things the Panthers wanted to see.

Center of attention: With starting center Ryan Kalil (knee) and backup Brian Folkerts (ankle) out, starting right tackle Mike Remmers did a nice job as the starter. He played well enough there, and rookie Daryl Williams played well enough at right tackle, that Folkerts likely became expendable.

Nice debut: Wide receiver Kevin Norwood had only one full practice after being acquired in a trade with Seattle late Monday. He had two catches for 40 yards, including a 27-yarder up the middle in the second half.