It’s only the preseason. These games don’t count. But tonight’s game at home versus the Washington Redskins means something for the Carolina Panthers.
The third preseason game is the tune up game. Normally, starters will play as much as three quarters, and, no less than a half followed by one series in the third quarter.
This is the evaluation the coaches need and the players need to know where they stack up against the competition. In fact, this is the first game the team will game plan for.
Areas of concern will have to be assessed tonight.
In the first game against Indianapolis, this group looked good but they were going against a depleted Colts defense. Tonight will be a different story.
Not only will they be facing starting caliber players, they will be left in the game longer and will have to display some toughness.
Rookie Jeff Otah will be tested. Every coach worth his weight in salt will test the opponent’s rookies. That’s the way of the NFL. Expect a fierce rush to be mounted at Otah early and often from every possible angle. How well he handles it will be critical.
The center of the line – center Ryan Kalil and guards Keydrick Vincent and Travelle Wharton – will likely see stunts a-plenty. Communication and their ability to adjust on the fly will be crucial. Tonight, this group will have to prove how well they’ve adjusted to playing as…well…a group.
Jordan Gross is a bit of a given since he’s the veteran but he will have to step up his play and prove that he can truly hold down that left tackle spot.
Last week, Stewart saw his first game action of his NFL career. The results – 4 carries, 3 yards. Not exactly a stand out performance. However, he was playing behind the backups and in poor conditions. That will change tonight.
John Fox has already stated that J-Stew will be getting some reps early with the starting unit so this time there will be no exuses of playing behind backups or scrubs. Tonight is when the rubber should meet the road.
Attempting to come back from Tommy John surgery is tough enough let alone trying to prove to the coaches that his arm is okay throwing in a torrential downpour. Those conditions will change tonight.
The weather will be clear plus, he’ll have nearly his entire complement of receivers with the return of Steve Smith. It’s unfortunate that D.J. Hackett has been dinged up. It would be nice to get him some reps with the starters so he and Jake can work on their timing.
The Defensive Line
Last week, Julius Peppers did an about face. He went from being unstoppable in game one to being unseen against Philadelphia. Was he being held? Was he having a bad day? Who knows. He’ll have to answer the bell tonight.
This group last week didn’t manage much of a pass rush at all. Against Washington, they’ll have something to prove.
Call this a dress rehearsal. Tonight is the opportunity for all of us to get a read on where this team is and where they are headed. Tonight’s game means something.