The NFC champion Carolina Panthers opened their preseason with a 22-17 loss at Baltimore. Here’s what you need to know.1. The starters looked fine, in a small sample sizeCam Newton connected on his first five passes, marching the team on a 14-play opening drive. His only incompletion came on third down in the end zone, leading to a field goal. Then Newton and most of the offensive starters went to the bench. Newton settled for dump-offs to Greg Olsen and short passes to receivers for the most part. The only new-ish wrinkle the offense showed was playing hurry-up tempo on a couple of downs.Newton also had a key negative play on defense. When linebacker A.J. Klein returned an interception for a pick six, Newton ran onto the field to celebrate, while the play was still going. He got flagged, calling back the touchdown.Olsen had two catches for 10 yards. Second-year wideout Devin Funchess had one catch for 10. Kelvin Benjamin returned to the field after missing all of last season with injury and finished with one catch for five yards.On defense, Luke Kuechly, Star Lotulelei and the rest of the starters also saw minimal action. Several were out after one series, and most of the key contributors were gone after two. Shaq Thompson had the best defensive outing of the starters although he was officially credited with just two tackles, he was in, on or near just about every play, including hustling downfield to escort Klein into the end zone on his interception.2. The rookies looked goodThe Panthers chose cornerbacks James Bradberry and Daryl Worley in the second and third round of the 2016 draft, respectively. Both started the preseason opener and both were aggressive on defense, providing physical coverage on the Ravens receivers. Bradberry broke up a pass in the end zone, although it was accidental. He was covering the receiver when the pass hit him in the back. Worley also appeared to play a bit of safety. He crashed the line to provide physical run support on several occasions, including a tackle of quarterback Ryan Mallett on a scramble, just shy of the first down. Worley also got in on a corner blitz.First round defensive tackle Vernon Butler was in on the second defensive series of the game. He struggled to get consistent penetration and was manhandled a bit by the Baltimore starting offensive line. He had one spin move to shed a block and stop a running back at the line of scrimmage, but otherwise, he wasn’t much of a factor.Fifth-round cornerback Zack Sanchez got in early on punt return, picking up a block in the back penalty on one. He entered the game on defense late in the third quarter. He had a pass breakup and a missed tackle.Seventh-round tight end Beau Sandland got in on the third offensive series and played the rest of the way. He started as a fullback, but also moved to the traditional tight end spot and had a few plays as a split back. He had one blown block that led to a tackle for loss just before the half, but he made up for it with a pair of good blitz pick-ups in the second half.3. Early leaders on position battles Fozzy Whitaker, Cameron Artis-Payne and Brandon Wegher are fighting for the backup running back spot. Whitaker had three carries for zero yards, but he recovered a muffed punt for a takeaway. Artis-Payne had 10 yards on five carries, including a fourth-down conversion. Wegher had the most carries and yards (10 for 13) but he was hit in the backfield several times and appears to be a distant third at this point.The rookie corners appear to be significantly ahead of veteran Robert McClain, who didn’t get in until the second quarter and got hit with a holding penalty on a late punt.Sandland also appears to have an edge in the crowded tight end picture behind Olsen. Ed Dickson missed the game with a groin injury. Scott Simonson had significant playing time, but he didn’t appear to be as versatile as Sandland, spending most of his time in the traditional spot on the line.Brenton Bersin took a big lead in battle for the final receiver spot. He had five catches for 69 yards, converting two first downs. Bersin was able to get open and also catch the ball in traffic. He went down with a rib injury late in the first half, however, and the extent of that injury is still unknown. Kevin Norwood picked up a pass interference call, wiping out a long catch by Philly Brown. Damiere Byrd was impressive on returns, other than a late muffed punt. He also had an impressive one-handed catch. He wasn’t able to come away with the ball the other four times he was targeted, however.Swayze Waters got all the punts, in his battle with veteran Mike Scifres. He didn’t do much with the opportunity, averaging 34.3 yards.4. Helped and hurt themselvesHelped: Safety Marcus Ball had several big plays on special teams and defense. Defensive tackle Eric Crume had a strip sack and recovered the fumble. Quarterback Joe Webb was solid in the second half.Hurt: Defensive end Ryan Delaire struggled to keep plays inside all night. End Mario Addison had limited time on defense and picked up a special teams penalty. LB A.J. Klein had the long interception return, but he also had two missed tacklesthe second one a terrible effortand was blocked out of the play on a touchdown. Defensive tackle Kyle Love also struggled.5. How did the Duke guys do? Jeremy Cash was in early on kickoff coverage. He lined up on defense late in the third and was in on several tackles, both in space and in the backfield. Much like his college career, Cash appeared to be near the ball on every play.Braxton Deaver was on the kickoff return team early. He was in for a handful of fourth quarter snaps at tight end but didn’t have any significant plays.
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