Three takeaways from Wednesday’s Carolina Panthers’ 27-17 exhibition victory over the Houston Texans:
1. Don’t sleep on Damiere Byrd.
Byrd, the diminutive wideout from South Carolina, built on his strong training camp with several big plays against the Texans. And if there were any questions about Byrd’s place on the roster, there shouldn’t be anymore.
Byrd pulled down four catches for 98 yards and two touchdowns, including a 50-yarder from Joe Webb in the second quarter. He also got around the corner for a 13-yard punt return.
Byrd burned cornerback Robert Nelson Jr. for his long touchdown. Byrd, who also ran track for the Gamecocks, had two steps on Nelson but had to wait a tick for Webb’s bomb.
Byrd looks like a roster lock, assuming he can stay healthy. With Curtis Samuel still sidelined with a hamstring injury, Byrd is currently the team’s best (only?) true deep threat.
And he’s also dangerous a returner, giving Ron Rivera someone who can spell Christian McCaffrey (on punts) and Fozzy Whittaker (on kickoffs) as needed.
2. Good start for the starters up front.
It was only two series in the first preseason game, but the Panthers’ offensive line held up well against a Texans’ defensive front featuring two of the game’s premiere pass rushers in J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney.
Watt, coming off two back operations that sidelined him last season, was in for just one series. So clearly this was the smallest of sample sizes.
But on a third-down play, right tackle Daryl Williams and right guard Trai Turner teamed to keep Watt off QB Derek Anderson, allowing him to complete a pass to Devin Funchess that set up Graham Gano’s 50-yard field goal attempt (which he doinked off the left upright).
Also of note during the Panthers’ first offensive possession was left tackle Matt Kalil’s solid showing vs. Clowney. The two did some after-the-whistle jawing on two plays, but Clowney did no damage against the Panthers’ $55.5 million free-agent acquisition.
3. Not-so strong showing from the second teamers vs. the run.
There’s been a lot said and written about the Panthers’ suspect depth in the secondary (and for good reason). But it was the No. 2 defensive line and linebacker units that were gashed by the Texans after Luke Kuechly and Co. left after two series.
To be fair, Houston still had most of its starting offensive line in the game. And it showed, as Texans RB Alfred Blue kept breaking into the second level. Blue carried six times for 50 yards on a 75-yard drive, which Blue capped with a 16-yard touchdown run.
It didn’t help that second-year DT Vernon Butler injured his left knee early during the Texans’ drive (and later was carted to the locker room). And there were good moments for the second team later in the game (including LB David Mayo’s forced fumble on a mini-Peanut punch).