Panthers rookies look to win spots as camp closes

One preseason game is already in the books, and players are jockeying for jobs on the Carolina roster

Panthers rookie defensive back Rashaan Gaulden, the team’s third-round pick in April’s NFL Draft, tries to push Bills running back Marcus Murphy out of bounds in the teams’ preseason opener last Friday in Buffalo. (Rich Barnes / USA TODAY Sports)

The Carolina Panthers opened preseason and closed training camp, beginning the transition toward next month’s season opener.

As the team packs up and leaves Wofford and prepares to open Bank of America Stadium for the year with a preseason home game against Miami on Friday, here’s a status report on the newest members of the team and an update on the position battles.

The draft picks

First-round WR D.J. Moore: The Maryland playmaker was on the field for the first play of the game, getting first crack at kick return (although the opening kickoff ended up being a touchback). His first play from scrimmage was in the slot on the game’s first third-down play. Overall, Moore seemed to be ready to contribute this year, contributing several long catches and showing the ability to elude tacklers that promises ample yards after catch this year.

Second-round DB Donte Jackson: The LSU product lined up at cornerback and didn’t get a lot of attention from the Buffalo Bills’ passers — often a sign that his coverage forced them to look elsewhere. He was behind Kelvin Benjamin on a diving sideline catch that converted a third down — a play where he could have shown better awareness of where the chains were. The only other negative was an overthrown deep ball where Brandon Reilly had a step on him. On the flip side, Jackson made a good open-field tackle on running back Chris Ivory to prevent a long touchdown.

Third-round safety Rashaan Gaulden: The former Tennessee Vol didn’t get into the game until the late first quarter as a member of the kickoff team. He got some second-quarter snaps on defense, including one where he was dragged into the end zone on a Marcus Murphy touchdown run.

Fourth-round tight end Ian Thomas: The Indiana product got the most playing time of the rookie class. He was in on the opening kick return and was running pass routes from the first offensive snap. He remained in the game deep into the second half. He had several catches in the game and picked up a penalty on a defender to give Carolina a first down.

Fourth-round DE Marquis Haynes: The jump to the NFL often seems to be a steep one for defensive linemen, and Haynes was no exception. He got into the game early in the second quarter and rarely managed to beat his man to apply any pressure to the quarterback. He was blocked off of his feet once, but he showed good ability to recover, often scrambling to change direction and get in on downfield tackles.

Fifth-round LB Jermaine Carter: He was also in on the opening kickoff return, made the tackle on the team’s first punt and was also a member of the kickoff team, all good signs for him making the roster and having an impact. He was quick into the backfield on blitzes, once interrupting a handoff from quarterback to running back. He picked up a helmet-rule penalty, but he contributed big plays in both halves in a very impressive showing.

Seventh-round LB Andre Smith: The former Tar Heel didn’t get many opportunities to impress on defense, although he was in on kickoffs in the second half. He could be destined for the practice squad if he doesn’t manage to earn more playing time soon.

Seventh-round DL Kendrick Norton: The tackle entered the game early in the second quarter and found the going tough on the inside. He struggled to move guards and tackles or free himself from blocks on run plays. His only positive impact play was in the fourth quarter, when he stunted around the end to help flush the quarterback from the pocket.

The position battles

Cornerback: Jackson took an early lead on Kevon Seymour, who had a brutal outing as the primary target of Buffalo’s passing game. Buffalo threw at him on its first three snaps of the game, getting three first downs and one pass interference flag on him. He was also beaten on the team’s first touchdown. Captain Munnerlyn made a brief appearance early in the slot. Lorenzo Doss was solid after entering the game in the second half. Cole Luke impressed on several corner blitzes but was beaten deep once. Corn Elder spent most of his time at linebacker.

Left guard/Right tackle: Taylor Moton appears to have inherited the tackle spot in Darryl Williams’ absence. The favorites at left guard, Jeremiah Sirles and Amini Silatolu, both missed the game with injuries. Greg Van Roten got the start at right guard and was solid at the spot before shifting to center later in the half.