Carolina Panthers

Predicting the Carolina Panthers’ 53-player roster

Pro Bowlers Thomas Davis, left, and Luke Kuechly return to lead the Carolina Panthers’ linebackers.
Pro Bowlers Thomas Davis, left, and Luke Kuechly return to lead the Carolina Panthers’ linebackers. jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

Teams must pare their rosters from 90 to 75 players by Tuesday, but in the NFL the second cut is the deepest.

By next Saturday teams will have trimmed their rosters nearly in half to get to the 53-man, regular-season limit.

The Panthers’ front-line players are set. And while there will be some minor surprises on the second cut-down day, they won’t involve players who will impact the Carolina Panthers’ chances of returning to the Super Bowl.

In the Observer’s second preseason roster projection, we’ll skip past the 75-man version and get right to the 53-player prediction:

(Changes from last week are noted in bold.)

OFFENSE

Quarterbacks (3): Cam Newton, Derek Anderson, Joe Webb

The QBs didn’t fare well in the P-I-G basketball tournament at training camp. But there’s a good vibe in the quarterbacks room and it’s unlikely the front office would mess with it, especially given Webb’s special teams value.

Running backs (4): Jonathan Stewart, Mike Tolbert, Fozzy Whittaker, Cameron Artis-Payne

No changes from last week. Not that there was any real doubt about Whittaker’s place on the roster, but the versatile, third-down back showed his worth last week with a nice catch-and-run out of the backfield at Tennessee. Brandon Wegher didn’t break any long runs during extensive second-half action vs. the Titans.

Receivers (6): Kelvin Benjamin, Devin Funchess, Ted Ginn, Philly Brown, Brenton Bersin, Damiere Byrd

Bersin returned to practice after missing a week with a rib injury. Brown’s shoulder is banged up, but coach Ron Rivera doesn’t seem concerned. Undrafted rookie Keyarris Garrett had his best practice of the preseason Wednesday. Garrett is still probably destined for the practice squad, but could make things interesting is he keeps making plays.

Tight ends (4): Greg Olsen, Ed Dickson, Scott Simonson, Braxton Deaver

Olsen (back spasm) and Dickson (groin pull) were back on the practice field and could play Friday against the Patriots. If not, it will mean more reps for seventh-round pick Beau Sandland, Marcus Lucas and Deaver, the undrafted rookie from Duke who remains one of our dark-horse picks.

Offensive line (9): Michael Oher, Andrew Norwell, Ryan Kalil, Trai Turner, Mike Remmers, Gino Gradkowski, Donald Hawkins, Daryl Williams, free agent to be determined

A little change-up here with Hawkins joining the list after a solid showing at Tennessee and injured Chris Scott moving off for now. Hawkins, Michael Oher’s backup at left tackle, is a big guy, so he checks that box for Dave Gettleman. The Panthers value “swing players” who can handle multiple positions up front. But with Williams continuing to struggle on the left side, they might be forced to keep two backup tackles.

DEFENSE

Defensive line (9): Charles Johnson, Star Lotulelei, Kawann Short, Kony Ealy, Mario Addison, Wes Horton, Vernon Butler, Paul Soliai, Kyle Love

It would appear the decision for the Panthers here is whether to keep five tackles or five ends. Five ends were projected last week. But this week DE Ryan Delaire is replaced by Love, the tackle who is back after a week in the concussion protocol. Delaire played better last week than he did at Baltimore. But he’s still strictly a speed rusher -- and the Panthers have one of those already in Addison.

Linebackers (6): Luke Kuechly, Thomas Davis, Shaq Thompson, A.J. Klein, David Mayo, Ben Jacobs

Undrafted free agent Jeremy Cash jumped into the conversation with four fourth-quarter tackles in the rain in Nashville. But Rivera’s post-game comment that Cash “has a ways to go” makes it seem Jacobs still has the upper hand for the last LB spot. But if Cash plays well vs. the Patriots and Jacobs misses much more time with his ankle injury, the decision gets tougher.

Defensive backs (9): James Bradberry, Daryl Worley, Kurt Coleman, Tre Boston, Zack Sanchez, Bene’ Benwikere, Robert McClain, Colin Jones, Travell Dixon

Injuries have become a factor in the secondary. Safety Trenton Robinson looked like he had a good shot at sticking before tearing his pec and undergoing surgery this week. Cornerback and special teams ace Teddy Williams remains out with a groin injury. That opens the door for Dixon, who has impressed with his special- teams play and would serve as the fourth safety.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Specialists (3): Graham Gano, Mike Scifres, J.J. Jansen

Scifres still seems like the guy to beat. But Rivera said early in camp the punters’ performances in preseason games would weigh heavily in his decision, and Scifres has yet to punt in an exhibition. Kasey Redfern has been inconsistent punting, but has given Gano a break on kickoffs.

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