Three Panthers players to watch: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Volume 1)
By Jake Wexler
Can the Carolina Panthers right the ship against their divisional rivals under the bright lights?
Last week the Carolina Panthers fought tooth and nail against the defending NFC Champions. If not for some classic “missed opportunities” (as Coach Rivera loves to call them) and questionable officiating decisions (“complete fumble incompletion” is a concept I need to really dig into to understand), the Panthers may have even won the game. Regardless, they’ll need an extra short memory heading into Thursday night’s tilt with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The Buccaneers, coming off of a much more ugly week one loss, are looking to beat a Cam Newton-led Panthers team in Charlotte for the first time since 2012. To do this, they’ll need much better play out of their former first overall pick, starting quarterback Jameis Winston. Winston threw two awful pick-sixes to San Francisco in last week’s game and has raised alarms for Tampa fans that not even noted “quarterback whisperer” and head coach Bruce Arians can fix him. The Panthers, would like for that alarm to ring even louder on Thursday night under the bright lights.
Here are three players that I’ll be watching closely:
Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy spent his entire nine year career in Tampa Bay. The six-time Pro Bowler used to wreak havoc against Carolina time after time. Now he’ll be looking for revenge against his old team in this week’s match up.
McCoy was released by Tampa Bay this summer, and it was not the smoothest of transitions on the Buccaneers side. Bruce Arians had several snarky comments regarding the former lifeblood of the Tampa Bay defense on his way out. The Buccaneers also had the gumption to give away his no. 93 jersey to his replacement, Ndamukong Suh. McCoy has been nothing but respectful in media excerpts regarding his old team, but everyone knows he’s looking to make them pay on several fronts.
The veteran wasn’t a huge factor in week one, but that was more of a result of the Rams game-plan than an indictment on his performance. Los Angeles spent most of the day neutralizing the Panthers front line by playing a side-to-side, quick pass game. I don’t expect the Buccaneers to do the same, at least not as effectively as the reigning NFC Champions.
I’ll be watching Gerald closely. He should have some major fire in his belly for this one.
James Bradberry aka Semaj aka Chadberry
If you’ve been paying any attention, you already know this is a huge season for cornerback James Bradberry. Bradberry is in a contract year with the Carolina Panthers and (along with Shaq Thompson) should be a top priority for the team to bring back, as long as he plays well.
Against the Rams on Sunday, Bradberry had what may have been his best game in a Panthers uniform recording the team’s only sack along with a phenomenal interception in the fourth quarter.
The interception was so impressive that Rams head coach Sean McVay personally congratulated Bradberry as the teams shook hands following the game. Bradberry was surprised McVay even knew his name according to Max Henson of Panthers.com. Henson also unveiled the defense’s endearing nicknames for the fourth year cornerback’s alter egos, Semaj and Chad. Semaj (“James” backwards) is the confident, sure of himself side of James, while Chad (or “Chadberry” if you ask teammate Donte Jackson) is the fired-up version who makes big plays such as his interception on Sunday. Hopefully the entire country gets to become familiar with Semaj and Chadberry this week.
Week one wasn’t exactly kind to Curtis Samuel. The training camp superstar caught only three passes for 32 yards on four targets. Although a lot of the blame can be placed on Cam Newton (especially for the miss on Samuel’s deep third down wheel route), fans expected more out of the third year receiver.
I’m watching for offensive coordinator Norv Turner to work in some designed plays for Samuel and getting him more involved in the offense early and often. If Samuel has another dud performance on Thursday night, it will be worrisome (and I will never trust a training camp tweet again). This goes hand-in-hand with Cam Newton attempting a deep ball, Samuel’s specialty. The Panthers should be hoping for something along the lines of this play from training camp:
Last week, I was watching for success out of Cam Newton, Brian Burns, and Ray Ray McCloud. None of the three really came through, leaving more questions than answers to this point. Hopefully Thursday night’s tilt can shed some light on the 2019 Carolina Panthers.