The Panthers’ kicking mess is going to end up costing them a valuable depth player.
Veteran kicker Graham Gano missed the entire preseason with an injury to his plant leg, which is related to the knee injury in that leg that cost him the final four games of 2018. Speaking to reporters Thursday after the team’s preseason finale, Gano did not give a timetable for when he might return, although he said he hasn’t kicked anytime lately. In his place, rookie Joey Slye went an impressive 7-for-8 in the preseason with three makes of over 50 yards.
A league source told the Observer there’s a “possibility” Gano ends up on injured reserve (IR), but if the team wants him to return at any point this season, he first has to be on the 53-man roster after Saturday’s 4 p.m. deadline for trimming. The team can then place Gano on IR and replace him with another player — but only if that player hasn’t already been claimed by another team on waivers.
There’s also the possibility the team doesn’t place Gano on IR, if his injury isn’t serious, and just keeps two kickers for a handful of weeks while he recovers.
Either way, the necessity of keeping Gano and Slye on the 53-man roster means the Panthers are at risk of losing a valuable young talent. That could be someone such as Terry Godwin at receiver, Efe Obada on the defensive line or Corn Elder at cornerback.
Here is one final 53-man roster prediction, accounting for the updated Gano situation:
In: Cam Newton, Kyle Allen, Will Grier.
Out: Taylor Heinicke.
Why? Grier was destined to make the roster as a third-round pick, but he isn’t ready to be Cam Newton’s backup yet. There are size and turnover issues with Heinicke, and keeping four quarterbacks would limit another position.
Running back (4*)
In: Christian McCaffrey, Reggie Bonnafon, Jordan Scarlett, Alex Armah* (fullback).
Out: Cameron Artis-Payne, Elijah Holyfield.
Why? Bonnafon showed enough in the preseason to earn a spot, and his potential as a return man works in his favor. Scarlett has the size and strength to be a short-yardage back. Artis-Payne is a known commodity, and Holyfield could be a practice squad candidate if he isn’t picked up elsewhere.
Wide receiver (6)
In: DJ Moore, Curtis Samuel, Jarius Wright, Chris Hogan, Torrey Smith, Terry Godwin.
Out: Aldrick Robinson, DeAndrew White, Andre Levrone, Rashad Ross, Jaydon Mickens, Damion Jeanpiere Jr.
Why? Godwin’s potential as a returner is what would earn him a spot, but with Bonnafon taking some of those responsibilities, he may end up on the outside looking in. He’s a prime practice squad candidate if he doesn’t make the 53.
Tight end (3)
In: Greg Olsen, Ian Thomas, Chris Manhertz.
Out: Jason Vander Laan, Temarrick Hemingway, Cole Hunt, Marcus Baugh.
Why? This is one position where there was never any doubt.
Offensive line (9)
In: Daryl Williams, Greg Van Roten, Matt Paradis, Trai Turner, Taylor Moton, Greg Little, Dennis Daley, Tyler Larsen, Taylor Hearn.
Out: Tyler Catalina, John Yarbrough, Rishard Cook, Brandon Greene, Parker Collins, Kitt O’Brien, Kofi Amichia.
Why? This is one area where the Panthers could look to pick off the waiver wire. They’re thin at tackle — even more so with Little in the concussion protocol — and could use another body there given Williams’ injury history.
Defensive line (11)
In: Kawann Short, Gerald McCoy, Dontari Poe, Mario Addison, Bruce Irvin, Brian Burns, Marquis Haynes, Kyle Love, Vernon Butler Jr., Christian Miller, Efe Obada.
Out: Bryan Cox Jr., Bijhon Jackson, Woodrow Hamilton.
Why? Obada is right on the edge of the bubble, and he very easily could be the odd man out in favor of someone like Elder. But the team has seen what he’s capable of in limited snaps last season, and they won’t want to lose him in waivers.
In: Luke Kuechly, Shaq Thompson, Jermaine Carter Jr., Andre Smith, Jared Norris.
Out: Jordan Kunaszyk, Sione Teuhema, Antwione Williams, Brandon Bell.
Why? Kunaszyk and Teuhema have impressed throughout the preseason, and the team would be fortunate to bring both back. Norris has special teams value the team can’t afford to let walk.
In: James Bradberry, Donte Jackson, Eric Reid, Tre Boston, Javien Elliott, Ross Cockrell, Rashaan Gaulden, Colin Jones.
Out: Corn Elder, Kevon Seymour, Lorenzo Doss, Damian Parms, Cole Luke, Josh Thornton, Corrion Ballard, Ryan Pulley, Quin Blanding.
Why? Elder is the victim of the Panthers needing to keep two kickers (more on that in a second). He’s a solid backup nickel option, and the team will want him back if they opt to put Graham Gano on injured reserve — if he’s stil available then, that is.
In: Joey Slye, Graham Gano*, Michael Palardy, JJ Jansen.
Out: Andrew DePaola.
Why? Again, Gano could either end up on IR or as the second kicker while he recovers. In either case, that requires the Panthers dedicating two spots to the position, which will cost them depth elsewhere.