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Panthers interested in punter, corner battles during preseason opener

Rookie cornberback James Bradberry can solidify his position on the first-team defense with solid performances in the preseason. Jeremy Brevard/USA TODAY Sports

Don't look for Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton to play more than a series or two in Thursday night's preseason opener at Baltimore.

Coach Ron Rivera already has hinted that if Newton has a good first series his night might be over.

The same for tight end Greg Olsen, running back Jonathan Stewart, center Ryan Kalil, linebackers Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis.

The Panthers know what they can do.

There will be interest in seeing wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin in a game for the first time since suffering a season-ending knee injury in training camp a year ago. But don't look for him to get snaps either as he's shown in practice his recovery is complete.

This will be about the young players, whose mistakes on Monday led Rivera to stop practice and chew out the team.

Here are five players to keep an eye on in the 7:30 p.m. ET game at M&T Bank Stadium:

Swayze Waters, P: Yes, we're starting with the punter. The battle between Waters and veteran Mike Scifres could be the most critical outside of what happens at cornerback as the Panthers look to replace Brad Nortman, now with Jacksonville. At times both have looked good. At times both have looked bad. The Panthers want to be a directional punting team, one of the reasons they weren't willing to get in a bidding war for Nortman, who sometimes outkicked his coverage. Scifres didn't punt on Tuesday because of a sore knee that could keep him out of this game. That would give Waters, the Canadian League's special teams player of the year in 2014 as a member of the Toronto Argonauts, perhaps his best chance to impress. I'm still not convinced the starting punter is on the roster.

James Bradberry, CB: It's no secret that the Panthers are banking heavily on the rookie out of Samford to replace Pro Bowl corner Josh Norman. Bradberry has worked with the first team almost since the day he arrived as a second-round pick. He seems to have a grasp for the system and he won't face many -- if any -- receiving corps better than he has in practice. It's also no secret that how he performs in preseason games will either solidify Bradberry's position or force the staff to look at options. They have those in Bene' Benwikere, Robert McClain and possibly even third-round pick Daryl Worley. This won't be Bradberry's biggest test. Baltimore has a rash of injuries at receiver, so he won't face Steve Smith Sr. or Breshad Perriman. Regardless, Bradberry has to perform.

Daryl Worley, CB: The third-round pick out of West Virginia continues to hold down the corner spot opposite Bradberry, but he too has to perform in preseason games the way he has in practice. Worley is in the same situation as Bradberry in that Carolina has options should he falter. He spent some time with the second team earlier this week as McClain worked with the first. The Panthers know what they have in McClain, who started in Super Bowl 50 and both playoff games after Charles Tillman's injury in the 2015 regular-season finale. Bradberry has to show he's an improvement over McClain, who isn't quite as tall (5-9 to Worley's 6-1). The Panthers love tall outside corners.

Cameron Artis-Payne, RB: The second-year running back out of Auburn needs to prove he can handle the pass rush better than he did a year ago if he expects to see an increase in snaps this season. He also needs to perform as a runner to keep Brandon Wegher from passing him on the depth chart. Wegher arguably was the star of Carolina's preseason a year ago with three touchdowns. That helped him earn a roster spot as an undrafted rookie. As good as Artis-Payne has looked in practice, the gap between him and Wegher isn't great. Wegher also needs to show he can handle the pass rush.

Beau Sandland, TE: With Scott Simonson seemingly solid as the No. 3 tight end, that leaves seventh-round pick Sandland and undrafted rookie Braxton Deaver battling for perhaps the final roster spot at this position. Both have had their moments in practice, but again what they do in preseason games will be the deciding factor.