Is Matt Rhule playing it safe with Panthers starters the right call?

(Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports) Matt Rhule
(Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports) Matt Rhule /

Matt Rhule is playing it safe with his Carolina Panthers starters this weekend, but is it the right call to make in the circumstances?

The Carolina Panthers won’t be sending their starters into action at the Indianapolis Colts in their first preseason game of the summer. Head coach Matt Rhule stated immediately after Friday’s eventful joint practice that the likes of Sam Darnold will not be seeing the field at Lucas Oil Stadium, which resulted in plenty of social media debate from the team’s fanbase.

A lot is made of training camp and warmup games. Perhaps a little too much in the grand scheme of things.

Rhule said that he planned to utilize his starters up until Wednesday. Whether the physical nature of the joint practices – especially on Friday – altered his mindset or not is up for debate and with only three preseason games before Week 1 against the New York Jets, everything needs to come together in a relatively short space of time.

Carolina will get a good chance to evaluate those players right on the fringes before the first round of cuts on Tuesday. Watching them in a training camp setting is one thing, but showing out on the field when it matters more is far more beneficial to their chances.

"“We didn’t substitute the ones much here; now we’ll get the twos and threes. This year’s different. We cut down to 85 on Tuesday, so I want to make sure all 90 guys are healthy and on tape, so we make the right and appropriate decisions. I was probably going to play the ones up to about Wednesday, but looked at it and said let’s treat it this way.”"

Keeping everyone healthy is the main prerogative for the Panthers this offseason. Some slight knocks are coming up with key players, with the likes of A.J. Bouye and Denzel Perryman also missing a considerable period of time throughout training camp so far.

Darnold and the first unit are getting plenty of reps during the week. Although a game-day scenario is far different, keeping them out of the firing line is the route Carolina’s coaching staff is going down.

This might not have much impact on the defensive side of things. It is a group that looks primed for big things judging by what we’ve seen of late, so the Panthers need to focus their attention on gaining some much-needed stability on offense to help them take that next step.

The former USC star can work on timing with receivers in a relaxed setting – perhaps until their final preseason game against the Pittsburgh Steelers – but it’s the offensive line that poses the most concern when it comes to this particular decision.

Some confusion still remains as to what combination the Panthers will go with. Especially the left tackle spot with Trenton Scott, Cam Erving, and even Taylor Moton candidates to fill the role.

Having stern preseason competition would help the decision-making process. But this also represents a good opportunity for players like Dennis Daley, Brady Christensen, Deonte Brown, Sam Tecklenburg, and Greg Little to stake a claim.

The coaching staff knows what they’re doing. They should be trusted until proven otherwise and it’s also worth remembering this is Rhule’s first real preparation period after so much disruption last year due to COVID-19.

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Although disappointing for the fans, it still represents a good opportunity to see just how strong or not Carolina’s depth is looking ahead of a 2021 season that could really go either way for the organization.