CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Carolina Panthers return to Tennessee’s Nissan Stadium, where in November the "dab" became a household name, today for a 3 p.m. preseason game.
Don’t look for quarterback Cam Newton to reveal what celebration will replace the Atlanta-based dance here. It’s doubtful he’ll be given the opportunity to run near the goal line at all.
But there’s plenty to keep an eye on. Here are five things:
Three good series: Coach Ron Rivera didn’t just say he wanted three series out of Newton and the first-team offense. He said he wanted three "good" series. Whether that means Rivera is willing to risk the NFL MVP and other starters past that remains to be seen. The starters typically don’t see extensive playing time until the third preseason game. Rivera didn’t expand on what he meant by "good," but you can bet he’ll want to see more out of the running game. The Panthers rushed for only 81 yards in their preseason opener at Baltimore, and 39 of that total came from third-string quarterback Joe Webb (22) and starting wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr. (17). Starting running back Jonathan Stewart didn’t play, so look for him to get a few carries. But most of the focus will be on second-year back Cameron Artis-Payne, who had only 10 yards on five carries against the Ravens.
Tackle depth: This week, the Panthers worked out offensive tackles Will Beatty and Willie Smith, both with starting experience, and signed Smith. So there obviously is concern about the depth behind starters Michael Oher and Mike Remmers. Most of that concern appears to be for the backup at left tackle, where Smith spent most of his time in his first practice Thursday. Daryl Williams, who hasn’t pushed Remmers as much as Rivera had hoped, admittedly is more comfortable on the right side. Canadian David Foucault and Donald Hawkins haven’t shown much behind Oher, so Smith has a chance. Depth on the line might be the biggest concern outside of the secondary.
Life without Olsen: Rivera says there are "no concerns" with Pro Bowl tight end Greg Olsen, who hasn’t practiced since Sunday because of back spasms. Backup Ed Dickson also was out Thursday with an injury, so the tight ends today could be Scott Simonson, Beau Sandland, and Braxton Deaver. The staff has been looking for a third tight end to step up as an all-around player as Olsen has been, so this could be the best opportunity for one to separate from the pack -- if Simonson hasn’t already done that.
Young Guns II: While rookie cornerbacks James Bradberry and Daryl Worley continue to work with the first team, it’s the preseason games that really matter. They fared well against Baltimore, but the Ravens were missing their starting quarterback and receivers. The Titans, with quarterback Marcus Mariota & Co., should pose a bigger challenge. Keep an eye on Bene’ Benwikere and how much he plays nickel versus every-down corner. The secondary gave up some big plays in practice over the past week, particularly to Devin Funchess. So this unit will remain a focus.
Special teams: Did the Panthers make a mistake in letting Brad Nortman sign with Jacksonville in free agency? It’s starting to look like it. Swayze Waters was released after handling all the punting duties against Baltimore. Kasey Redfern was signed to compete with Mike Scifres, who resumed kicking this week after battling a knee injury. The job appears to be Scifres’ to lose. But, as has been said here several times, Carolina’s punter might not be on the roster now.