The Panthers topped the Jaguars 24-23 in the third game of the preseason Thursday in Jacksonville. They close out the preseason with a home game against Pittsburgh this Thursday.
Cam Newton made his first start of preseason, completing both passes on a touchdown drive in his only series. Jonathan Stewart had 39 yards on five carries. Kelvin Benjamin had four catches for 36 yards and a score.
Running back Christian McCaffrey had seven rushes for 21 yards and one catch for 12. He showed good change of direction on a run up the middle and fought for yards after contact. The team looked at him on three punt returns with little success. He went backward on the first return, missed a tackle on a fake punt the second time, and was blown up by a tackler on the third.
Receiver Curtis Samuel saw his first action after missing the first two games with a bad hamstring. He had four catches for 15 yards, and it appears that the team will try to get him the ball at the line of scrimmage on a quick out and have him use his speed to produce yards.
Defensive back Corn Elder missed his third game with an injury.
Offensive lineman Taylor Moton appears to have lost the battle for starting right tackle to Daryl Williams. He entered the game for one series in the second quarter, then handled the second half.
Defensive end Daeshon Hall was held out after suffering a minor injury earlier in the week. Undrafted free agents Bryan Cox and Efe Obada, both of whom have had strong preseasons, made the most of the extra time. Cox recorded a sack, and Obada was around the quarterback on several plays.
Fullback Alex Armah again received very limited time, not a good sign for his chances to avoid a year on practice squad. He caught a screen pass for a long gain up the sideline, but his two penalties on punt returns — for a block in the back and running into the kicker — are likely what will stick in coaches’ minds.
Kicker Harrison Butker didn’t get an opportunity to kick for points, thanks to the team’s repeated two-point attempts late in the game. He had one touchback on three kickoffs. Another kick went to the 7-yard line and resulted in a long return. The third went eight yards deep into the end zone but was taken out for another long return. Butker added a missed tackle on the latter kick, just to make matters worse.
Right tackle: Williams started and remained in with the rest of the first-string line. Barring injury, he appears to have fended off Moton for the job.
Kicker: Veteran Graham Gano had a PAT and a 31-yard field goal. He also had a touchback and a pooch kick to the 12 that was only returned for six yards. The game was a big win in his quest to hold off Butker.
Punter: After Michael Palardy appeared to pull ahead last week, Andy Lee rallied. Palardy had a net of 39, thanks to a punt that rolled into the end zone. Lee had a 49-yard net on three punts.
Third wide receiver: Russell Shepard had a head-to-head showdown with Devin Funchess late in the third quarter. Funchess made a leaping catch, followed by another leaning grab where he was able to stay upright and fight for yards. Immediately afterward, Shepard was targeted on three straight throws with no successful catches. Two went off his hands, including one where he may have heard footsteps and slowed.
Slot cornerback: Captain Munnerlyn saw the field first and once again didn’t get targeted on many plays. He had a tackle on the one reception he gave up. Zack Sanchez again struggled with missed tackles, but he had a 47-yard return on an interception and also broke up a pass on the goal line.
Safety depth: After an impressive game last week, L.J. McCray sat out with injury. Colin Jones had two big tackles on punt coverage, including a shoestring tackle on the fake. Dezmen Southward was consistently one of the first men down on kick and punt coverage, but he didn’t bring down the returner.
LOCAL COLLEGE GUYS
Linebacker Jeremy Cash (Duke) is on every first-team special team unit, a good sign for his roster chances. He also had several tackles on defense.
ECU linebacker Zeek Bigger, NC State receiver Trevor Graham and Charlotte receiver Austin Duke all saw their snaps vastly reduced, which could mean bad news on cut day.