Panthers coach Ron Rivera said the final few roster spots could come down to players’ special teams skills.
So it was surprising Saturday when the Panthers released linebacker Jason Trusnik and running back Jordan Todman, two veterans who were signed during the offseason for the sole purpose to improve special teams.
The Panthers only ended up keeping one of their special teams additions – reserve cornerback Teddy Williams, who will be a gunner on the punt team and play on other special teams phases, as well.
It wasn’t a money issue with Trusnik and Todman, both of whom were due to make the veteran minimum.
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The emergence of undrafted free agent Brandon Wegher left Todman as the odd man out at running back, while fifth-round pick David Mayo and third-year player Ben Jacobs got the last two linebackers spots over Trusnik and Adarius Glanton.
The Panthers’ special teams ranked among the league’s worst in 2014, and the punt coverage team looked shaky during the preseason.
But bringing Ted Ginn back will give the return games a big boost, while kicker Graham Gano was 10-for-10 on field goals during the preseason.
The Observer breaks down the rest of the Panthers’ 53-man roster:
Quarterbacks (3): Cam Newton, Derek Anderson, Joe Webb.
Comment: Rivera said early in training camp the plan was to keep three quarterbacks. Webb essentially will serve as the sixth wide receiver, while also playing on several teams.
Running backs (5): Jonathan Stewart, Mike Tolbert, Fozzy Whittaker, Cameron Artis-Payne, Brandon Wegher.
Cut: Jordan Todman.
Comment: Artis-Payne looks like the No. 2 back behind Stewart, with Whittaker the change-of-pace guy. Wegher won the final spot with an outstanding preseason, which trumped Todman’s special teams prowess.
Wide receivers (5): Jerricho Cotchery, Ted Ginn, Devin Funchess, Corey Brown, Kevin Norwood.
Cut: Brenton Bersin, Mike Brown, Damiere Byrd.
Comment: Ultimately, the Panthers went with the speed of Brown over the sure hands of Bersin for the last receiver spot. When they traded for Norwood last week, the Panthers all but guaranteed him a spot on the roster. Now he’ll have to learn the offense in a hurry to be a factor early in the season.
Tight ends (4): Greg Olsen, Ed Dickson, Richie Brockel, Brandon Williams.
Cut: Marcus Lucas, Scott Simonson.
Comment: This is the same group the Panthers started with last season. It’s a good mix of receivers and blocking tight ends, although Brockel is coming back from a shoulder injury. Williams appears to be fully recovered from offseason groin surgery.
Offensive linemen (9): Michael Oher, Andrew Norwell, Ryan Kalil, Trai Turner, Mike Remmers, Nate Chandler, Amini Silatolu, Chris Scott, Daryl Williams.
Cut: David Foucault, Jordan McCray, Brian Folkerts (injury settlement), Martin Wallace, Ricky Henry.
Comment: All eyes will be on Kalil’s knee this week. If he has any setbacks, don’t be surprised if the Panthers slide Remmers from right tackle to center and start the rookie Williams in Remmers’ spot.
Defensive line (9): Charles Johnson, Star Lotulelei, Kawann Short, Mario Addison, Wes Horton, Kony Ealy, Colin Cole, Dwan Edwards, Kyle Love.
Cut: Rakim Cox, Arthur Miley (injured reserve), Chas Alecxih, Terry Redden.
Comment: With Lotulelei’s early-season status still up in the air, the Panthers had no choice but to keep Love as a fifth defensive tackle. Like he did last year, Johnson will enter the regular season having gotten limited reps due to injury during the preseason.
Linebackers (6): Luke Kuechly, Thomas Davis, Shaq Thompson, A.J. Klein, Ben Jacobs, David Mayo.
Cut: Jason Trusnik, Adarius Glanton, Brian Blechen.
Comment: Glanton, who started two games as an undrafted rookie last season, is a player who could have provided depth on defense while helping on special teams. But when the Panthers drafted two linebackers this year, someone was going to get squeezed.
Secondary (9): Josh Norman, Charles Tillman, Roman Harper, Kurt Coleman, Tre Boston, Bene’ Benwikere, Colin Jones, Teddy Williams, Dean Marlowe.
Cut: Carrington Byndom, T.J. Heath, Lou Young, Marcus Ball.
Comment: Marlowe, the undrafted safety from James Madison, came on strong at the end of the preseason. This group’s depth could be tested immediately as Tillman and Norman recover from concussions, while Jones and Williams are dealing with groin injuries.
Specialists (3): Graham Gano, Brad Nortman, J.J. Jansen.
Comment: There was never really any doubt who the specialists would be, assuming all of them stayed healthy. They did, and turned in a strong preseason.