The 10-0 score that wrapped up the 4th exhibition (and final game of the preseason) only tells a sliver of the story. Cam Newton was held out entirely as he recovered from his rib ailment that (briefly) took him out of game 3. Derek Anderson, who has shown himself to be competent and capable in his backup role on the team, got the start shortly after welcoming in the birth of his first child.
Anderson was leading a drive in the 2nd Quarter when an errant hike led to a mad scramble in the backfield. In his attempts to recover the fumble, he injured his throwing hand when Steelers LB Jarvis Jones dove headlong for the loose ball. A team that was already down one signal-caller lost its primary backup as Anderson left the game. The onus fell to Joe Webb as the only healthy player the Panthers had with experience taking the ball from Center. Webb continued to impress as he was thrust into a larger role than anticipated with Anderson’s injury and handled himself masterfully. While he only engineered one touchdown scoring drive the entire game, Webb was thrust into the game early enough to face some of Pittsburgh’s starters. The trial by fire may prove helpful further into the season if the Quarterback issues continue.
The game’s lone touchdown came on a drive buoyed by a bomb Webb threw to Philly Brown. Brown is an intriguing prospect because of his startling speed that was on display when Webb connected with him for a 53 yard completion. The pass set up a Fozzy Whitaker goal line blast. Whitaker finished the game with 91 yards and that TD. He continues to show why the organization was so ok with trading Kenjon Barner for a conditional 7th round pick to the Eagles. Whitaker is a blend of speed and power that may be the best on the team despite his lower name profile in comparison to franchise stalwart’s DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart .
The remaining parts of the game are less important than what is to come. Cuts to the final 53 must be made by teams by 4pm EST today. And the Panthers will have to decide if they want to carry a 3rd QB on the roster. While they only kept two last year, Webb’s play has shown that he has improved as a passer; complementing his athleticism.
Another player that surged enough to perhaps make the final roster was Brenton Bersin, a WR with acclaimed hands and good size (6’ 3” 205 pounds). Bersin just missed out on making the final team last season, I don’t think he’ll have that problem this time around.
While he was obviously already on the team, every game that Thomas Davis plays he seems to improve. While Luke Kuechly is a phenomenal talent, Davis’ combination of instincts and athleticism make the LB corps phenomenal. It is an added joy that a player that came back from an unprecedented three ACL injuries is getting the opportunity to fulfill his talent on the field.
Kelvin Benjamin has made the transition from college star to formidable NFL Wide Receiver look seamless. He hasn’t taken a snap in a regular season game, but that doesn’t mean his exhibition season has meant nothing. While the reports early on were that he wouldn’t be thrust into the number one receiver position, his talent and chemistry with his various QBs indicate that he will be prominently featured in the Panthers’ offense.
As much of a pleasant surprise as KB has been, Cam’s relative lack of chemistry with Jason Avant and Jerricho Cotchery is alarming if not to be expected. Greg Olsen and Benjamin will have to be a formidable duo for…whomever throws them the ball.
Newton’s health was an issue before he got banged up in the third preseason game. He is coming off the first surgery of his professional career and looked shaky moving around on that ankle in the two games in which he appeared. Anderson is great in his backup role, but if Newton isn’t healthy and isn’t a dual threat to pass or run I don’t know how this team can return to the playoffs. With the defense still looking dominant, the Panthers concern will be on putting up points and keeping the defense as rested as possible. The score of preseason games doesn’t normally matter, but Panthers fans may need to get used to low scoring affairs.