Carolina Panthers vs. Pittsburgh Steelers Preseason Preview
The Carolina Panthers and Pittsburgh Steelers face off tonight, as the remaining NFL preseason games kick off for Thursday Night Football. The preseason ends tonight, which means this is the last chance for roster bubble players to make their case to make the final roster cuts, while it could be one more chance for us all to see some of the Panthers’ first-team guys perform before week one.
Nothing is a lock in the final preseason game, but here are a few things we should still tune in to this game to check out as the preseason comes to a close:
1. The End of an Era?
Jimmy Clausen could be getting his last chance to prove he belongs on the Carolina Panthers. With no trade value and a weak preseason thus far, he could easily be on the chopping block. Derek Anderson has the bigger arm and shockingly better pocket presence, which has him locked-in as Cam Newton’s top backup. Carolina could still hold onto Clausen as a third stringer in hopes he develops enough to turn into trade bait, but they could just as easily cut their losses if he comes up lame against the Steelers on Thursday night. If he actually shows up and looks good in the preseason finale, Carolina might be able to finally locate a taker for him.
The Green Bay Packers are hard up for a backup option with some potential to place behind Aaron Rodgers. They could be a potential trade partner if Clausen shows any signs of progress tonight.
2. Charlie Batch vs. Byron Leftwich
The Steelers may have to cut long-time backup Batch, despite his reliable play and knowledge of the offense. The fact is, Pittsburgh has had injuries to big name players (rookie David DeCastro most notably), and may not have enough room to keep three quarterbacks with other positions requiring some more talent or depth.
Batch will undoubtedly be battling it out with the younger and more talented Byron Leftwich, who should also play in this game. This is one of those rare battles that could actually be settled based off of two player’s performances in one game during preseason action. Batch is the more poised player with more experience, but I wouldn’t be shocked to see him get cut, even if he plays well against Carolina.
3. Steelers’ Offensive Line
Due to said injury to rookie offensive guard David DeCastro, the Steelers suddenly need to find a replacement at offensive guard on their 0-line. DeCastro was no lock to play without struggling as a rook, but he was pretty NFL-ready and he was clearly one of the most talented guards on the team already. Keep an eye on the guys playing both guards spots tonight to get a good idea of who could be on the inside track to crack the final roster, as well as lock down some playing time.
4. The Bubble
This final preseason game is almost strictly about the roster bubble. The Panthers have to cut their roster down from 75 to 53 by tomorrow, so you know a lot of talented players will be looking for new homes or will have their dreams dashed forever after tonight. One of those players could be wide receiver Armanti Edwards, while a slew of other small names will get a pink slip before the week is over.
It will be very interesting to track some performances in the secondary, especially Captain Munnerlyn and Sherrod Martin. Both could easily make the team or get cut at this point. The Panthers will probably only keep three tailbacks (as well as Mike Tolbert – fullback), so either Tauren Poole or Armond Smith could play their last game in a Panthers’ suit tonight. There are position battles on the offensive line and at receiver, too, although my guess is Seyi Ajirotutu has a spot locked up because he’s had an in with head coach Ron Rivera from their days together in San Diego. That likely spells the end for Lamont Bryant and Jared Green, but who knows what happens if they step up in a big way against the Steelers?
These battles and more will be worth taking a look at in tonight’s game.
5. Special Teams
Kicker Justin Medlock has already won the job from veteran Olindo Mare (who was released), but we should get to see even more of him tonight as the only kicker left on the roster. We’ll also get to see new punter Brad Nortman in action all by his lonesome, after winning the punting job. In addition, Carolina will continue to see who fits best as the backup punt returner and second kick returner, as well as find out more about the guys who can fill in as special teams role players (gunners, etc). Rookie Joe Adams has the punt return job locked down, but Carolina may keep looking for a second option behind him. With roster spots on the line, a lot of the guys on the said “bubble” above will have to fight hard and prove their worth on the special teams unit.
Carolina got better in the return game in 2011, and should be even better in that department in 2012. However, their special teams coverage still was suspect last season, so it’s important to both find solid special teamers, as well as guys who have the versatility to help there, as well as at their natural position.
With this all said, we’re just one more week away from the real deal – games that count for the Carolina Panthers!