The preseason continues this weekend as the Tennessee Titans host the Carolina Panthers on Saturday.
The second of the two joint practices between the Panthers and the Titans was a truly dismal offensive showing for Carolina. It also brought about an interesting point from quarterback Derek Anderson, who noted that the second day of practice was almost like playing in back-to-back games against the Titans. He also said that because Tennessee had the film from the joint practice the day before, the defense already knew what Carolina’s (mostly second-and-third-string) offense would run.
That was no excuse for the poor execution of many of the receivers, but it makes Saturday a little more interesting on both sides. Each team is now so familiar with the other, technique has to be that much sharper to make plays. This might make it easier to weed out some superlatives from the pack fighting to make the 53-man.
Here’s what else I’m watching:
Will the No. 6 receiver please stand up?
As of this week, there seem to be five locks (Kelvin Benjamin, Devin Funchess, Russell Shepard, Curtis Samuel and Damiere Byrd), and one spot left open on the roster.
But so far, a clear and consistent performance-based favorite has not emerged among Kaelin Clay, Mose Frazier, Brenton Bersin, Trevor Graham and Austin Duke. Each has had his moment in camp and the preseason, but consistency and need will now be what sets one of these players apart.
Bounce-back game for Byrd
Byrd may have all but sealed his roster spot with his two-touchdown, 98-yard performance against Houston last week, but he had an awful practice Tuesday with three uncontested drops. While Byrd shouldn’t be worried about losing his spot based on one bad workout, he could use a second big game to give Carolina a reason to double down on him.
Second- and third-team defenses
Carolina’s second- and third-team defenses struggled at times to contain Houston (especially on the ground) last week. They are still finding their footing, and will likely get at least three quarters to work out some kinks on Saturday.
Middle linebacker David Mayo’s calls and pass coverage will be something to note, as well as the performance of third-teamers such as linebackers Ben Boulware and Zeek Bigger and safety L.J. McCray. The third-team D’s miscues were corrected, loudly, by linebacker Ben Jacobs during practices in Nashville.
Depth may not be a question at linebacker, but it very much is in the secondary. Corner Cole Luke will likely again see a lot of time at the nickel and outside corner. Carolina continues to think highly of the undrafted rookie, and it’s very possible he will or has already jumped Zack Sanchez on the depth chart.
At safety, the Panthers need to see more from Damian Parms and Dezmen Southward as they look for answers to their depth questions behind Mike Adams and Kurt Coleman.
With Vernon Butler out a few weeks with a sprained knee, Kyle Love’s continued rehabilitation from an ankle injury and the absence of Toby Johnson, there is an opportunity at second-team defensive tackle. Newcomer Connor Wujciak is a name to watch after a nice couple of practices.
I will also be watching rookie defensive end Daeshon Hall. He will probably get a lot of playing time opposite Wes Horton as Carolina spells its first-teamers, and will get a great opportunity against a solid offensive line.
Containing Mariota, Titans offensive line
We know this Panthers defensive line and linebackers unit has the potential to be one of the best in the league, but Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota’s legs, precision and new targets make him tough to defend.
He is aided by an ornery, athletic offensive line that, for at least a series or two, will be a great test for Carolina’s defensive front – even with the presumed absence of veterans Julius Peppers and Charles Johnson, who will likely not dress out for the game.