The Carolina Panthers’ offense will have a great test on Friday when they host the Miami Dolphins in an exhibition at Bank of America Stadium.
The starters for both teams will have limited snaps, with Carolina’s first team facing a stout front seven featuring defensive ends Cameron Wake and Robert Quinn, defensive tackle Akeem Spence and linebackers Kiko Alonso, Raekwon McMillan, Stephone Anthony and Jerome Baker.
“I think Miami has a terrific defensive line,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said after Wednesday’s practice in Charlotte. “I think it’ll be a really good test for a couple of our guys. I think (right tackle Taylor Moton) has a good matchup. So it’ll be good to see how he fares.”
It’ll also be a test for Carolina’s retooled running game.
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“They have a heck of a defense, a lot of great athletes on their team,” running back Christian McCaffrey said. “So it’ll be good. Anytime we get to play against somebody else, we’re excited about it.”
Here are the four things you should watch against Miami:
▪ Fill-in offensive linemen: Not only will Moton, a second-year tackle, have his hands full as he continues to find his footing as a starter, but left guard Greg Van Roten will be looking to put some distance between himself and backup Brendan Mahon.
It will be just the second start for Van Roten, the team’s third-string center. Mahon, a rookie undrafted free agent, will come in once Van Roten moves to center, which he will do when starting veteran Ryan Kalil comes out. So both will get plenty of opportunity.
It looks like Rivera is getting his coveted left-guard battle, after all.
▪ Ian Thomas: The rookie tight end has flashed his potential several times through training camp and the preseason so far, and is clearly physically and mentally gifted.
But it’s still a long road for Thomas, who has a relatively limited football background and is still working into the Panthers system.
He has improved daily, and will continue to get a ton of snaps in the preseason as a crucial piece: the Panthers’ No. 2 tight end, used often in 12-personnel sets, and valuable depth to Greg Olsen.
▪ Kevon Seymour: The third-year cornerback had a rough game against Buffalo, just a day before he welcomed his first child. The Panthers need him to bounce back in a big way this week.
After veteran Ross Cockrell’s season-ending injury in camp, the depth at cornerback other than Seymour is largely untested.
Corn Elder shows promise on the outside and at nickel, but after missing the entire 2017 season he is still adjusting. As of Wednesday, LaDarius Gunter was still in the concussion protocol. Veteran Captain Munnerlyn can play on the outside as needed, but the Panthers like him at nickel and use the package often.
So Friday is definitely big for Seymour.
▪ Safety depth: Reserve safety Damian Parms was having a great camp, but he went on injured reserve with a pectoral injury last week.
Now rookie Rashaan Gaulden, Dezmen Southward and newcomer Alex Carter must step up and establish solid depth at safety behind veterans Mike Adams and Da’Norris Searcy.
Gaulden was fairly quiet against Buffalo last week, and it’s likely he is continuing to adjust to playing safety as well as learning some of the Panthers’ sub-packages, including the big nickel.
He’s a smart, physical player, so it’s hard to imagine he’ll stay under the radar for very long.