The Carolina Panthers and Pittsburgh Steelers meet again in the fourth and final exhibition, as is tradition. But there’s a tradition that will probably be broken this year.
Usually when the Steelers come to town, their fans and their Terrible Towels take over Bank of America Stadium.
It’s the difference between a storied franchise and a two-decade-old franchise; one with six Super Bowl trophies and one with zero.
But with historic attendance numbers at training camp and excitement at an all-time high, that probably won’t be the case Thursday night.
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This might be a meaningless game to fans, but Carolina is going to cut 22 players between the end of the game and Saturday afternoon. For some, their performance in this game will go a long way in determining which side of the cut line they’re on.
Here are five things to watch:
Can Brandon Wegher stand out?
Running back Brandon Wegher had a huge preseason last year with two touchdowns, but he’s barely getting 2 yards per carry this preseason.
He’s been stuck behind the third-team offensive line for most of the preseason, and Panthers coach Ron Rivera hopes to get Wegher in the game early to see what he can do not only with a better offensive line, but also against a better defense.
Andy Lee’s punting
The Panthers traded Kasey Redfern and a fourth-round pick to Cleveland in exchange for Andy Lee and a future seventh-round pick. That fourth-round pick is a very high draft pick for a punter.
So high, in fact, that it even surprised Lee.
Nonetheless, Lee is Carolina’s punter, and he excels at directional punting and pinning teams inside their 20. It’s OK if he isn’t booting the ball 61 yards so long as he’s putting it in the right place to make sure there’s not a 60-yard return like last week.
Will Stevie Brown play?
Carolina signed safety Stevie Wednesday after he worked out for the team over the weekend.
Brown is a five-year veteran who doesn’t need the preseason work, and he doesn’t know the calls and scheme of Carolina yet.
That said, the Panthers are desperate at backup safety. It’s possible they sit veteran Kurt Coleman and play Tre Boston sparingly. That leaves Brown, Colin Jones and Marcus Ball as the only healthy safety options.
Linebacker Brian Blechen played emergency safety last week and did a great job of see-ball, get-ball. He’s on the bubble, so more play like that at a position that’s foreign to him will earn points for cut day.
Joe Webb’s day
It’s highly unlikely Carolina puts league MVP Cam Newton on the field at all in the final exhibition. And after a week of not practicing because of soreness, it’s unclear if backup Derek Anderson will play against Pittsburgh, either.
That leaves Joe Webb. He was already going to play most of the game, but now he may go wire-to-wire.
Another big day for Jeremy Cash
Undrafted safety-turned-linebacker Jeremy Cash, from Duke, has been a bright spot this preseason for Carolina.
Pro Football Focus has him ranked as the best rookie 4-3 outside linebacker in the preseason, and Cash is showing why the Panthers made him a priority after the draft.
He took a shot against New England that required him to be checked for a concussion, but he cleared the tests and returned to practice this week. He should be able to finish the preseason strong with a half-long performance against the Steelers.