PITTSBURGH Justin Medlock won the Panthers kicking job in large part because of his strong left leg.
Medlock had the distance on a pair long field-goal tries Thursday, just not the aim. Medlock, 28, a former Canadian Football League star, missed kicks of 56 and 50 yards in the second half of the Panthers 17-16 loss to the Steelers.
Medlocks strong showing at training camp convinced the Panthers to cut veteran Olindo Mare, who was consistently short on field goals of 50 yards or longer at Wofford. Coach Ron Rivera remains confident in Medlock, despite Thursdays misses.
The kids got a leg and hes going to continue to work and hell make kicks for us. I believe that he will, Rivera said. Im pretty excited about what he can give us as far as the distance with his leg.
The good thing is it happened now. Ive just got to figure it out, Medlock said. I was hoping for that situation, and Im hoping for it again.
Medlock put all five of his kickoffs into the end zone, four for touchbacks.
Meanwhile, rookie Brad Nortman, a sixth-round pick out of Wisconsin, nailed a 55-yard punt in the first half that was downed at the Steelers 1. Nortman, who won the punting job over veteran Nick Harris, averaged 48.7 yards on six punts.
Steelers rookie Chris Rainey had punt returns of 90 and 78 yards that were nullified by holding penalties. Rivera said he was not concerned about the plays because the Panthers were in position to make the tackle, if not for the penalties.
Travel List: The Panthers left six starters in Charlotte with various injuries and ailments, including offensive linemen Ryan Kalil and Jordan Gross, receiver Steve Smith, who has an infected foot, running backs Jonathan Stewart (ankle) and Mike Tolbert (quadriceps) and linebacker Jon Beason (hamstring).
Rivera did not specify the injuries to Kalil and Gross, but he said both were minor. Rivera said he would know more about the injured players status for the opener at Tampa Bay after they get treatment this weekend.
Rule Changes: The players union approved a couple of rule changes Thursday, including one that will allow teams to bring a star player off injured reserve rather than remain on IR throughout the season.
The union also voted to move the trading deadline back two weeks to Week 8. NFL owners signed off on the changes in May, but the NFLPA had to approve them, too.
With the change to the IR rule, one designated marquee player who is placed on IR after the 53-man rosters are set now can return to practice after Week 6 and be eligible to play in Week 8 games.
Teams were given an exception this year and could designate a marquee player prior to next weeks roster deadline. General manager Marty Hurney said the Panthers did not use that designation on cornerback Brandon Hogan, who went on IR this week after his surgically repaired knee showed little improvement.
I think any time with your top players, if you have an option to be able to get a guy back, its good, Hurney said. This is the first year. Well see how it works.
Hurney likes the later trade deadline. It just gives you two more weeks to see if you need help because of injuries or whatever, he said.
Ticket Talk: Fewer than 1,000 tickets remain for the Panthers regular-season home opener Sept. 16 against New Orleans.
• Among the most impressive things Thursday night about Heinz Field was the barbecue stands lined up on the edge of the Alleghany River selling ribs, pulled pork sandwiches and various other piles of grilled meat that smelled heavenly. You could believe for a moment you were at the Texas state fair.
• Being one of the NFLs most popular teams, the Steelers find themselves with an unusual schedule. Of their 16 regular-season games this year, only six are at 1 p.m. The Panthers, meanwhile, have been almost automatic for 1 p.m. in recent years, though a series with the AFC West this year means more late games.
If the Panthers develop into the team many think they can, the number of 1 p.m. games in the future is likely to diminish.
• If youre into traditions, the Panthers and Steelers have developed one. This was the 10th straight year theyve faced each other in the final exhibition. Same time next year? Bet on it.