If Cam Newton misses any time, the Panthers don’t have the luxury of a proven passer behind him.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The Carolina Panthers will cut their roster to 53 players by 4 p.m. ET Saturday. Here’s a projection:
It’s a little bit of a mess behind Newton. Allen and Grier have two of the lowest yards-per-attempt averages of any quarterback with at least 25 throws this preseason. Neither has generated much offensively or shown the capability of leading the team should Newton miss playing time. His mid-foot sprain in last Thursday’s exhibition loss to New England was a reminder of that, and might open the door to bringing in a veteran.
Undrafted free agent Elijah Holyfield looks like the odd man out, with fifth-round draft pick Scarlett getting the edge. General managers don’t like to give up on draft picks this early. The real wild card might be Reggie Bonnafon, who spent last season on the practice squad and has impressed with his pass-catching during the preseason. His 10 receptions for 93 yards leads the team. It won’t be a huge surprise if he makes it.
FULLBACK (1): Alex Armah
His versatility as a blocker and receiver still makes this an obvious choice.
Godwin didn’t help his case by fumbling a punt against New England in the third preseason game. That’s his best chance to make the team as he’s yet to show he can contribute consistently as a receiver. If Carolina were to keep an additional back in Bonnafon, Godwin could be in danger.
This group has been set from Day 1 and nothing they’ve done has changed that. Olsen’s foot injury, which cost him playing time the past two years, seems to be behind him and Thomas proved last season to be a dependable replacement. Manhertz is best known for his blocking, so he’ll probably get a pass on allowing Patriots lineman Kyle Van Noy to get an uncontested shot at Newton.
On paper, this looks like a solid group with good veteran leadership. But the starters gave up two sacks during the first three series against New England when Newton was playing, the second resulting in Newton suffering a mild foot sprain. Newton also was forced to throw a pass away while scrambling under pressure. One of those sacks, however, came because Manhertz whiffed on a block and another was a coverage sack.
The front three of McCoy, Short and Poe is stout. Butler is in a prove-it year, and missing the third preseason game with an injury didn’t help. He’s still a solid option as a backup. Obada was a better fit for the 4-3 than the 3-4 scheme the Panthers have transitioned to, so he could be in danger. Bryan Cox Jr. has shown promise, but being cited for speeding and possession of marijuana on the way back from training camp might be a factor if it’s close.
The biggest question is how long veteran Irvin can keep first-round pick Burns out of the starting lineup. Burns has four sacks in three preseason games. His speed and athleticism is what this defense needs to succeed. Miller, another rookie, showed flashes of coming around against The Patriots, but he’s still far enough behind Burns to the point the team will use a three-man rotation at OLB for a while.
Elliott has emerged as the surprise here, contending for the nickel spot with Elder. The addition of Boston since camp began solidified the free safety spot with second-year player Gaulden struggling and mysteriously leaving practice last week and then not traveling to New England. If Gaulden makes it, it’s because the team likes him as the big nickel. Kevon Seymour, dealing with a hamstring injury, could be a wild card here.
While one could argue backup kicker Joey Slye has been the MVP of camp, taking over while Gano rests a sore knee, he won’t make the roster unless Gano’s injury worsens or the Panthers believe they need to keep him as insurance — or trade bait. Two field goals of 50-plus yards in three preseason games could draw interest.