After months of Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton in a red jersey throwing to rookie receiver Kelvin Benjamin in practice, the two will finally be able to connect in a game.
“That’s everything,” Benjamin said. “Game speed is totally different from practice. So we just have to get out there and go over the plays we went over in practice, go out and try to be sound on everything we do.”
Newton will get his first live-game action of the 2014 preseason Sunday night against the Kansas City Chiefs, but if it’s too much action, Newton won’t be long for the field.
The Panthers are set to play Newton with the first-team offense through the first quarter, and the hope is he can play until halftime. But if he’s running too much on his surgically repaired left ankle or endures too many hits, the team will pull him.
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Newton and the first-team offense look to get more reps in a second exhibition game than ever before in the four years under head coach Ron Rivera. That’s because the Panthers turn around from Sunday night’s game and travel to New England for a Friday night game.
On short rest, the Panthers’ starters won’t play deep into the third exhibition like those for Carolina, and the rest of the NFL teams, usually have.
Rivera is good friends with Kansas City coach Andy Reid. In the unlikely event Reid hasn’t gotten word yet, Rivera will let Reid know he plans to play his starters longer than a team normally would for a second exhibition.
“Just so he knows and he can act accordingly,” Rivera said. “To me it’s not about surprising anybody, just so that he knows we’re going to go a little longer and if wants to keep his ones in a little bit longer, then great. If not we’ll play against whoever he puts out there.”
Rivera and Reid went 1-2 on the AP Coach of the Year ballot this past season, and they have a long friendship. Reid hired Rivera as his linebackers coach when Reid took over as the Eagles head coach in 1999. It was Rivera’s first positional coaching job in the NFL, and he stayed with Reid through the 2003 season.
Rivera said he had not spoken to Reid this week, but they’ll spend pre-game catching up on the field and, of course, sharing how long the starters will play.
Backup quarterback Derek Anderson started against Buffalo but may not see the field until after halftime on Sunday. But he doesn’t read much into starters’ projected play.
“I’ve had guys tell me we’d play a half in the fourth one, then the third group is starting,” Anderson said. “I’m just ready to play whenever he says.”
Sunday may be the last game action Anderson gets until the final exhibition in Pittsburgh. Anderson’s wife is due to deliver their first child the weekend of the Patriots game, and he intends to be with his wife for the birth.
That won’t affect the Panthers’ plan with Newton, though.
“Believe me, I’m not going to play Cam a little bit longer just because D.A. had to go have a baby,” Rivera joked.
Running back Jonathan Stewart will likely see about eight to 10 snaps, and DeAngelo Williams will get about 15 snaps. Mike Tolbert will likely get the bulk of starters’ snaps with about 25, or until the end of the half.