Instant analysis from the Carolina Panthers’ exhibition finale, a 17-14 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers:
1. Graham Gano fails to nail down the kicking competition.
When rookie Harrison Butker took all of the first-half placements and kickoffs – drilling one of the kickoffs well through the end zone – it looked like incumbent Graham Gano was going to get the night off.
But then Ron Rivera sent Gano out in the third quarter for a 51-yarder and he promptly doinked it off the right upright, which is becoming an all-too frequent occurrence.
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I thought Gano had the edge entering the game because of his experience, but I’m not sure how confident Panthers coach Ron Rivera can be in Gano at this point. That’s what it comes down: Who do you trust more to make a kick with a game on the line – a rookie (who didn’t miss a kick all preseason) or a veteran who seems a little shook since his 50-yard miss at Denver last September?
2. Kaelin Clay keeps making plays – and might have played his way on to the roster.
Clay, a 5-10, 195-pound receiver, was mostly an afterthought when training camp started. But Clay has shown terrific speed and big-play ability. He had a 33-yard catch two weeks ago at Tennessee, and then put his best game together Thursday with final cuts looming.
Clay caught three passes (on three targets) for 76 yards, including a 47-yarder in the first half when he got behind two defensive backs. If Clay makes the team, it would be over Damiere Byrd, another speed receiver who – like Clay – also can return punts and kicks.
And Byrd didn’t do anything to hurt himself vs. the Steelers, pulling down a 13-yard TD pass from Joe Webb. But the question is: Did Clay do more?
3. It was a tough night for the second-team offensive tackles.
With Matt Kalil and Daryl Williams getting the night off, Amini Silatolu and second-round pick Taylor Moton got the bulk of the first-half reps. Both gave up big pressures.
Bud Dupree got past Moton to force Derek Anderson into what was originally ruled a sack-fumble, before a replay review determined it was an incompletion.
Later in the first half, veteran edge rusher James Harrison bulled his way past Silatolu to sack Joe Webb.
Tackle depth has been something of an issue throughout the preseason. And though Moton has played well in his first preseason, that was not the case Thursday.