During a five-day span this week, the Panthers will go from 89 to 53 players (OL Edmund Kugbila is on injured reserve). The first cuts come Tuesday, when NFL teams must get to 75 players. But the big day will be Saturday, when the Panthers will see if they can find help – a kick returner? – from other teams’ scrap heaps. Here’s my latest projection, with changes from last week noted in bold:
Quarterbacks (2): Cam Newton, Derek Anderson.
Comment: Joe Webb has had a strong preseason. But he’s out of practice squad eligibility, and it’s likely the team only keeps two quarterbacks.
Running backs (4): DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart, Mike Tolbert, Fozzy Whittaker
Comment: There wasn’t much running room for this group at New England. Tolbert says he wants to play in the final exhibition at Pittsburgh.
Wide receivers (6): Jerricho Cotchery, Jason Avant, Kelvin Benjamin, Brenton Bersin, Philly Brown, Tavarres King
Comment: Kealoha Pilares and Tiquan Underwood needed a big kick return vs. the Patriots, but never got a chance because of touchbacks. Pilares caught a 30-yard pass from Webb in the final two minutes.
Tight ends (4): Greg Olsen, Ed Dickson, Richie Brockel, Brandon Williams
Comment: This has quietly become one of the Panthers’ deepest positions. Williams showed off his speed in making a touchdown-saving tackle after an Anderson interception vs. New England.
Offensive line (9): Byron Bell, Nate Chandler, Trai Turner, Amini Silatolu, Ryan Kalil, Garry Williams, Chris Scott, Fernando Velasco, Brian Folkerts
Comment: The line’s dealing with a couple of nagging injuries. Unless a young guy steps up, the Panthers might need to look for outside help to improve their depth.
Defensive line (9): Greg Hardy, Charles Johnson, Star Lotulelei, Kawann Short, Dwan Edwards, Colin Cole, Kony Ealy, Mario Addison, Wes Horton
Comment: Several backup ends saw early action against the Patriots; none generated much pressure vs. Tom Brady. (Note: Frank Alexander is suspended the first four games and won’t count vs. the roster.)
Linebackers (6): Luke Kuechly, Thomas Davis, A.J. Klein, Chase Blackburn, Jason Williams, D.J. Smith
Comment: Klein gave up a touchdown when he was slow to react to a Patriots’ wheel route. Blackburn has been bothered by a back injury.
Defensive backs (10): Antoine Cason, Melvin White, Bené Benwikere, Charles Godfrey, Josh Norman, Roman Harper, Thomas DeCoud, Colin Jones, Robert Lester, Anderson Russell
Comment: Benwikere started at nickel over Godfrey and had three tackles vs. Patriots. He also managed the only pass breakup as Brady took apart the Panthers’ defense.
Specialists (3): Graham Gano, Brad Nortman, J.J. Jansen
Comment: Backup Jordan Gay averaged 54 yards on two punts, with a net of 48.5. That could get him a couple of workouts.