At 5 p.m. on Wednesday night, the Carolina Panthers coaches will meet to decide which starters will see significant time against New England on Friday night, in the third game of the preseason that many call “the dress rehearsal.”
“Ideally, we’d like to take our starters into the third quarter,” said coach Ron Rivera. “Let them come out from halftime after we’ve gone through adjustments.”
This means quarterback Cam Newton and an offensive line that has faced quite the reshuffle with three starters injured will take more snaps in live action than they have all preseason.
Second-year guard/tackle Taylor Moton will start at left tackle, with longtime fill-in tackle/guard Jeremiah Sirles starting on the right. Third-string center Greg Van Roten will start at left guard, but the Panthers want to give undrafted rookie free agent Brendan Mahon some time there, too.
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If, because of the reconstructed line, Newton finds himself under an unusual amount of duress, the Panthers staff will re-adjust.
“We will have to look at what is happening in the game. I don’t want to get ahead of that stuff,” said Rivera. “We’ve talked about how we can protect and the things that we can do to help. And we will see what happens. ... We’ll see as the game develops.”
On defense, rookie safety Rashaan Gaulden will get his first NFL start with veteran safety Da’Norris Searcy still in the NFL’s concussion protocol.
Gaulden and fellow rookie Donte Jackson, the expected starting cornerback, were 5 years old when New England quarterback Tom Brady played in his own rookie NFL season.
▪ Starting right tackle Daryl Williams and guard Amini Silatolu were present at Wednesday’s practice and worked on the side of the field with athletic trainers. It was Williams’ second day doing so and Silatolu’s first. Williams is week-to-week after tearing his medial cruciate ligament (MCL) and dislocating his patella the first week of training camp, and Silatolu is day-to-day while healing a meniscus tear suffered a week later.
▪ Veteran linebacker Thomas Davis will sit out the first four games of the regular season while serving an NFL-mandated suspension. Rivera said that the team is already tapering his snaps in practices so that Shaq Thompson, who will start in Davis’ place, will be ready and so depth is established.
“If you get a chance to watch through the whole practice, you’ll see that he’s gone from full-time reps with the ones to part-time to even less,” said Rivera. “That’s the hard part, obviously, because Thomas is really integral to what we do, but we also are being realistic that Shaq has to be ready to go, David Mayo has to get ready to go. We’ve got some young guys who have to get ready to go.”
▪ Tight end Jason Vander Laan had a strong start to training camp but was absent the last few days and into the preseason. He returned to the field on Wednesday but did not practice. Rivera told reporters that the former Ferris State quarterback had suffered a knee injury.
▪ Panthers second-year receiver Curtis Samuel had a “vet” day on Tuesday in which he didn’t practice. Rivera said that though Samuel is getting his confidence back after ligament repair surgery on his ankle and is moving around well, they still want to take precautions.
Samuel practiced fully on Wednesday and caught a nice deep ball while working with the second team.
“We have to be smart with him,” said Rivera, who added that Samuel has shown the team flashes of his potential. “You see how quickly he’s maturing as a football player. ... A big part of it is just learning how to do it. And he’s done such a really good job about that. We’re excited about his potential and his growth so far, too.”