Carolina Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman and coach Ron Rivera did a handful of exercises this week trying to trim their roster from 75 to 53 players in anticipation of Saturday’s deadline.
And each time they did the hypothetical, they came up with a different roster.
Thursday night’s final exhibition against the Pittsburgh Steelers will be the make-or-break game for the players on the fringe of making the team.
“There are some really good battles going on at different positions and there are some guys who are fighting for those last few spots, and that’s the truth,” Rivera said. “We’ve had some guys do some really good things, guys who caught our attention at several of the positions. We’re going to be studying this. This final cut we make, and no pun intended, is not very clear cut.”
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Linebacker, cornerback and offensive line are three of the positions where the final one or two spots have yet to be decided. But Rivera made clear that they won’t take a certain number of players at a position just because that’s what history indicates.
“The numbers are not set by position. There’s not five here or four here,” he said. “That number has not been set at any position as we looked at it. They’ll be part of our discussion too as we go through and pick our football team.”
With that in mind, here are four players who could help their status – or have their bubble burst – on Thursday night.
Wide receiver Corey Brown
Brown has dropped two touchdown passes in the past two exhibitions. The Panthers believe he’ll get over it, likening it to a pitcher suddenly not being able to find the strike zone. Last week when Brown had three drops, he stayed in the game and played 56 snaps – most on the team – trying to get over it. He’ll be catching passes from Derek Anderson and Joe Webb, and if he struggles in a third consecutive exhibition he may find himself in danger. A team source indicated this week that, despite already trading for Kevin Norwood, the Panthers will be watching the waiver wire closing this week for another receiver.
Cornerback Lou Young
Young spent most of last year on Baltimore and Jacksonville’s practice squads. He pulled his hamstring early in camp and didn’t return until last week, but he’s already been making an impact at practice. Young had pass breakups in Sunday and Monday’s practices and then an interception on Tuesday. After practice he caught 40-50 balls off a machine. Carolina cut Melvin White, and that final cornerback spot seems to be for Teddy Williams, but Young can continue to impress and maybe find a home on the practice squad.
Tight end Brandon Williams
Williams spent most of the preseason on the physically unable to perform list with a groin injury and he’ll see his first action Thursday. He’s one of the strongest players on the team, but last year that didn’t translate to textbook blocking. With Greg Olsen, Ed Dickson and Richie Brockel on the final roster, and with undrafted tight end Scott Simonson seeing more time on the field, Williams needs to show something.
Linebacker Ben Jacobs
After the starting linebackers, the Panthers have A.J. Klein, Jason Trusnik and Adarius Glanton as locks for the team. That final spot is likely going to rookie David Mayo because the Panthers rarely cut draft picks (even if it’s to put them on the practice squad). That would leave Jacobs out. Jacobs was active in all 16 games last year and was mainly on special teams, but Carolina upgraded on special teams and added three new linebackers, leaving Jacobs with Thursday night as one last opportunity to impress the coaches.