Panthers breakdown: What we learned from preseason game two

Two draft picks find the end zone while stars sit out

Aug 19, 2017; Nashville, TN, USA; Carolina Panthers fullback Alex Armah (40) celebrates scoring a touchdown against the Tennessee Titans with teammate Panthers tight end Eric Wallace (46) during the second half at Nissan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

 The Carolina Panthers dropped to 1-1 in the preseason with a loss at the Tennessee Titans, 34-27 on Saturday.

The Carolina offense struggled in the first quarter, turning the ball over twice in the first five offensive snaps. The Panthers had just nine first-quarter plays as Tennessee jumped out to a 17-0 lead.

Carolina battled back to tie the score at 27 in the fourth quarter, before another Panthers fumble set up a three-yard game-winning touchdown drive for the Titans.

Here’s what you need to know about the team’s preseason progress in the second game.

How did the stars look?

Cam Newton, battling injury all preseason, didn’t dress for the second straight game. Linebacker Luke Kuechly was also held out as a precaution.

Among participating starters, running back Jonathan Stewart had four carries for eight yards. Receiver Kelvin Benjamin had two catches for 31, including another acrobatic grab.

Tight end Greg Olson was targeted just once, and the ball was tipped by a linebacker for an interception.

How did the draft picks look?

Running back Christian McCaffrey scored his first Panthers touchdown on a 17-yard run. McCaffrey was much more decisive than in the preseason opener and hit the holes with a burst. He had 33 yards on his three carries and 39 yards on two catches.

For the second straight week, receiver Curtis Samuel, and DB Corn Elder were forced to sit out with injuries.

Offensive lineman Taylor Moton, who played two positions in the opener, played exclusively at right tackle, starting in the second half. Again, he showed an impressive ability to control the line of scrimmage and neutralize opposing pass rushers. He was only beaten once, when a defensive end pushed him backwards enough to flush the quarterback from the pocket. Late in the game, Moton also pointed out a blitzer to the running back before the snap on a key fourth-down play. Moton also saw time on the kickoff return team.

Defensive end Daeshon Hall entered the game in the second quarter and played left defensive end most of the rest of the way. As in the opener, he had trouble getting by blockers and was twice blocked off his feet. He had two negative plays: Hall was flagged for holding on a kickoff return, and he went too far outside, allowing a running back to go for a 53 yard gain. Hall did have one strong play, when he shed a block to tackle a running back at the line of scrimmage late in the fourth quarter.

Sixth-round fullback Alex Armah didn’t get many snaps, and the team looked at several combinations of tight ends and running backs as lead blockers before turning to him, none of which is a good sign for his roster prospects. He made the most of his time, however, catching a 20-yard screen pass for a touchdown on one of his first times on the field. He also cleared the path for a short gain for the tailback on one of his other limited opportunities. The team also looked at him on kickoff return team late in the game.

Kicker Harrison Butker continued to impress. He had a PAT and a 46-yard field goal. On kickoffs, he had one touchdback and another that went to the goal line but was returned.

Any update on position battles?

Right tackle: Daryl Williams started at right tackle and appears to still lead the rookie Moton.

Kicker: Veteran Graham Gano had two PATs and a 37-yard field goal. On kickoffs, his specialty, he had one touchback, but Gano left another one on the three-yard line, allowing a Tennessee return.

Punter: Newcomer Michael Palardy appears to have the edge on Andy Lee. Palardy got both punts of the game, averaging 49 yards. His first punt was returned for a touchdown, but it got called back due to a Titans’ penalty.

Third wide receiver: Russell Shepard had an up and down game. He only reached the nine yard line on his first kickoff return, and he picked up an illegal motion penalty on offense. On the plus side, he twisted for extra yards on a quick out, nearly breaking it for a long gain. He also picked up a defensive pass interference penalty in the end zone, setting up the Panthers on the one. Shepard also showed good downfield blocking on a quarterback scramble play. He still appears to be the clear-cut choice behind Benjamin and Devin Funchess.

Slot cornerback: Captain Munnerlyn saw the field first, although he didn’t have many significant plays in either the positive or negative direction. Second-year Panther Zack Sanchez entered the game late in the second quarter and missed a tackle on one of his first snaps in the game. He redeemed himself later on, getting a tackle-for-loss on a run blitz late in the third quarter.

Safety depth: L.J. McCray had the best game of the candidates for the spot. The veteran sped down the field on punt coverage, picking up a pair of block-in-the-back penalties on Tennessee. McCray still was able to make the tackle on one of the plays, despite getting hit from behind. On defense, he had a miscommunication with a cornerback, leaving a receiver wide open in the end zone. He also got bowled over at the goal line on the game-winning touchdown run.

Colin Jones missed a pair of tackles, including one at the line of scrimmage that allowed a 53-yard run.

Dezmen Southward also missed a tackle, allowing a back to get a first down. Other than that, he appeared to be around the ball most of the game.

How did the local college guys do?

Linebacker Jeremy Cash (Duke) got significant time, entering the game early in the second quarter. He had a big hit on the quarterback on a run play and got a sack in the fourth quarter on a play where he was able to juke past the running back to meet the quarterback.

ECU linebacker Zeek Bigger saw limited time on defense, but he was on the kickoff return team early in the game.

NC State receiver Trevor Graham saw limited snaps on offense. The only time he was targeted, his defender broke up the pass. Graham also saw time on kick return team late in the game.

Charlotte receiver Austin Duke led the team in receiving, but he also had several negative plays, matching his inconsistency from the opener. He stumbled badly and ended up losing yardage on a punt return. He also had one drop and one near fumble as he was fighting to add yards. However, several of Duke’s catches produced first downs, including one on a tough catch in traffic over the middle. Duke also picked up a defensive holding penalty as Tennessee tried to slow him down near the end zone.

Defensive end Julius Peppers (UNC) saw his first game action of the season after missing the opener. He started and was able to pressure the quarterback in his brief time in the game.