Last call comes early Friday night for the Carolina Panthers — at least for the down-the-depth-chart players looking to make an impression in the final exhibition before next week’s roster cuts.
Rookie quarterback Bryce Young is expected to play against the Detroit Lions, and the plan figures to be the same as it was during the first two preseason games. Expect Young and the first-team offense to get a couple of series unless they string together a long scoring drive their first time on the field.
Young has attempted only 12 preseason passes, a total that likely won’t increase much as Frank Reich and offensive coordinator Thomas Brown keep things under wraps until Week 1 in Atlanta. While all eyes have been on Young, questions are looming over the rest of the offense, from a line that has struggled in protection to running backs and receivers dealing with injuries.
There are no gradual cutdowns this year. In one big wave, rosters will be trimmed to 53 apiece.
— The Athletic NFL (@TheAthleticNFL) August 21, 2023
Readers had lots of other questions, some of which have been edited for brevity and clarity. Let’s get to ’em.
Dan Morgan said the Panthers want to hold on to their future draft picks, so trading for a player seems unlikely unless it’s a player-for-player trade. That said, who on the roster could be moved? And what position groups would the front office target to potentially upgrade? My trade proposal would be to reunite Yetur Gross-Matos and Steve Wilks in San Francisco in exchange for Javon Kinlaw. — Daniel H.
The Panthers burned through some draft capital the past couple of years for Young, Matt Corral and DJ Johnson. So they’re more likely to use the waiver wire to add pieces, especially since only eight teams are above them in the waiver order. But Scott Fitterer is always going to work the phones, and the Panthers could look to pull off a player-for-player deal, as Daniel suggested.
People have been trying to trade Gross-Matos since Ejiro Evero was hired. Gross-Matos hasn’t developed as a pass rusher, but there’s a role for him as an edge-setter on early downs and as an interior rusher in certain packages. Still, it wouldn’t be shocking if Fitterer moved him. Corral hasn’t played enough to draw trade interest. Could the Panthers flip backup kicker Matthew Wright for a conditional, seventh-round pick? Maybe. They should showcase him again versus the Lions and let Eddy Pineiro continue to rehab his groin.
As for the position group targets, I could see Fitterer adding another cornerback and a running back. Daniel also asked about specific names. But with Morgan saying the scouts have written reports on nearly 1,400 players, that seems like a fool’s errand.
What is your “floor” for a successful Panthers season? I’d go with eight wins and Young looking like a future franchise QB. — Logan T.
I picked the Panthers to go 8-9 after schedules were released, which might have been too optimistic. Yes, the NFC South looks bad again. But it’s tough to win with a rookie quarterback — only four have posted 10-win seasons since 2010: Dak Prescott, Russell Wilson, Andrew Luck and Mac Jones(!). Logan’s right: Young getting through the season healthy and establishing himself as the Panthers’ answer at QB outweighs wins and losses.
Given the anticipated reliance on the run game during Young’s rookie season, the underwhelming showings by the other backs during the preseason and the O-line’s pass protection hiccups, how concerned should we be about Miles Sanders’ injury? — James W.
I don’t know that the Panthers will be the type of run-heavy team we saw at the end of last season when Wilks let D’Onta Foreman gash defenses rather than give the quarterbacks chances to give games away. I expect Reich to use the quick passing game to complement the rushing attack and take some of the pressure off Young. And I’m not overly concerned about Sanders’ groin injury. Reich has erred on the side of caution with injured guys this preseason, especially veterans. That said, the Panthers could stand to add a bigger back whom they can count on to get the tough yards around the goal line and in short yardage.
Is the change of coaching finally bringing the best out of CJ Henderson, coupled with that option not being picked up lighting a fire? Or is CB depth still a considerable issue? — Drew A.
Probably a little of both. I liked what Henderson said at Wofford about playing with more of an edge during a contract year. The fact that the usually quiet Henderson spoke to reporters at all was telling. “It’s a make-or-break year. I’ve gotta go out and earn mine,” he said after the public practice at Gibbs Stadium. “My back is against the wall. I feel like that’s when I do my best.”
Henderson has looked better this summer. But the Panthers could still look to improve their corner depth, even after the addition of veteran Troy Hill. That’s likely more of an indictment of Keith Taylor Jr. than Henderson, both of whom have a lot to prove after being exposed late last season.
CJ Henderson makes a stop against the Giants. (John Jones / USA Today)
Do you get the feeling that injuries will be much more mysterious this season? Updates seem slow and sketchy thus far. — Dennis B.
Just about every coach in every sport is guarded when it comes to injuries, especially when they don’t have to talk about them. NFL teams aren’t required to issue injury reports until Week 1. So Reich has kept the details to a minimum so as not to tip the Panthers’ hand in terms of which positions they’ll be targeting via trade or the waiver wire in coming days. Reich was ready to discuss DJ Chark’s injury this week, but a PR staffer discouraged him from doing so. (The Panthers then put out word that Chark was dealing with a hamstring issue.) It will be interesting to see how forthcoming Reich is during the regular season. More than likely it will depend on the severity of the injury and the importance of the player.
On to the speed round …
Over/under on Reich conceding the play calling to Thomas Brown for Week 1? — Lance D.
Brown has impressed players and coaches with the way he commands a room, and the offense played at a nice, crisp pace last week when Brown was calling the shots in the second half against the New York Giants. Brown will get his shot. But it won’t be Week 1, and it might not be this season.
Has Amaré Barno earned his spot solidly on the 53-man? — William W.
I’ve had him solidly on in my projections, assuming his undisclosed injury this week is relatively minor.
It’s Sept. 10 at approximately 1:12 p.m., and the Panthers offense lines up under the hideous fluorescent lights of Mercedes-Benz Stadium for the first time. Who’s at each guard spot? — Alexus S.
Brady Christensen and Chandler Zavala, who also knows his way around the kitchen. I haven’t paid much attention to the lights at Mercedes-Benz. Typically, I’m complaining about the roof being closed on a perfect fall day.GO DEEPER'You never get comfortable': Panthers WR Javon Wims on life on the roster bubble
Any more info on Terrace Marshall Jr.’s back issue? Day to day? Week to week? — Brad B.
Week to week.
Where do you think the new stadium will be located? — Ursula D.
Uptown, or whatever they’re calling downtown these days. This, of course, assumes David Tepper builds a new stadium. The buzz lately has leaned more toward renovating Bank of America Stadium, which has good bones but needs a face-lift.
If Young were a delicious, cold beer, what would he be? A crisp lager — simple but satisfying? An IPA — complex but not always the right fit? Or something else entirely? — Matthew H.
Congrats to Matthew for posing an interesting question and making me thirsty. I’ll buy you your beverage of choice should our paths ever cross. As for Young, let’s go with a Belgian pilsner — light, smooth and sophisticated. Cheers, and happy weekend.
Given the recent disclosures regarding UAPs and extraterrestrial contact made on American soil, what is the Panthers’ strategy to mitigate risk while not, for lack of a better term, alienating a potential new fan base? — Matthew E.
The Matthews are on a roll. First beer, and now aliens. In the words of Chris Christie from the Republican presidential primary debate, “I get the UFO question?” The former New Jersey governor quickly steered the conversation back to his talking points on education. I won’t do that. Instead, I’ll offer my own question: If Alf was an alien, does that make Grimace one, too?
(Top photo: Sarah Stier / Getty Images)
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