It’s a stretch to describe any preseason game as interesting, but the first-team snaps and intrigue pick up for the Carolina Panthers this week with the arrival of the New England Patriots and their surrounding subplots in Charlotte.
When New England’s equipment staff packs for Friday’s exhibition at Bank of America Stadium, presumably they’ll discard the scissors with which Tom Brady cut his right thumb last week.
Bill Belichick will likely treat Brady’s status as a state secret. But with the Panthers expected to play their starters into the third quarter, Friday would seem to offer quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo his best test to prepare for the four games he’ll start while Brady finally serves his Deflategate suspension.
Before delving any further into Patriots-Panthers, it’s instructive to look back at Carolina’s 26-16 win at Tennessee.
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1. Don’t rush to judgment on Daryl Worley.
Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota seemed to be picking on Worley, the rookie cornerback who gave up several receptions in the first half. Rookie wideout Tajae Sharp caught three passes in front of Worley during one drive.
But to his credit, Worley tackled Sharpe each time to keep him from getting loose after the catch. Worley’s five tackles were second among Carolina defenders behind safety Colin Jones’ six.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera said Worley had too much cushion on one play, but was supposed to have underneath help on another.
The thing about starting rookie corners is there will be bumps in the road. Given the low stakes and the fact that Worley wasn’t getting beaten on 50-yard go routes, this was a relatively minor one.
2. It was a better showing by backup linemen.
The shoddy performance by the second-team offensive tackles last week at Baltimore prompted the Panthers to sign former East Carolina lineman Willie Smith. With only one practice under his belt, Smith traveled to Nashville but did not play.
But the backups who did play were more effective this week protecting Derek Anderson, who attempted 20 passes without being sacked.
Second-string right tackle Daryl Williams and left tackle Donald Hawkins did a nice job against the Titans’ edge rushers, while center Gino Gradkowski and guards Tyler Larsen and David Yankey held down the interior.
Tennessee’s defense played mostly straight up and didn’t reveal any crazy blitzes. Still, this was progress from a line that let the Ravens get after Anderson early and often.
“Very pleased with that second bunch,” Rivera said. “Even when the third group got their opportunity, they did some nice things.”
3. There’s a rookie linebacker trying to cash in.
Former Duke linebacker Jeremy Cash had a fairly quiet training camp – in part because of the Panthers’ linebacker depth, but also because he’s still learning the defense.
After the 30-minute lightning delay in the second half Saturday, Cash was running around on the wet grass and making his presence known. Cash had four solo stops in the fourth quarter, including a tackle for loss when he dropped running back Bishop Sankey behind the line.
Cash (6-feet, 215 pounds) is still a little slight and has a sizable group of linebackers in front of him on the depth chart. But he opened some eyes against the Titans.
“Jeremy is really starting to come into his own,” Rivera said. “He’s got a ways to go. But he’s one of those guys that seems to be around the ball, very active around the football. That’s what we’re looking for.”