The Carolina Panthers moved to 2-0 on the preseason with a 27-20 win over Miami in their preseason home opener.
Here’s a look at how the rookies and other players involved in position battles helped or hurt their cause in the latest preseason outing.
First-rounder D.J. Moore saw his playing time and production drop off sharply from the opening game at Buffalo. The first time he was targeted was right before halftime, and he couldn’t get separated from his defender, who was able to break up the pass. Later in the game, he was hit as he caught the ball, coughing it up for an eventual interception.
While Moore played before Curtis Samuel, the second-year receiver followed up a strong game against Buffalo with two long catches on a touchdown drive in the second half. On the first one, Samuel beat his defender for a long gain up the sideline to get the team out of its own red zone. Later, he made a nice catch in traffic to move the Panthers into the Miami red zone. He also nearly pulled in an overthrown pass earlier in the game, just missing a spectacular juggling catch on the sideline. Samuel also saw time on the punt coverage team, when he was the first man down field, and at the kick return spot.
Veteran Jarius Wright wasn’t targeted and appears to be a distant third in the battle for slot receiver.
Second-round defensive back Donte Jackson got the start, as he looks to win the cornerback spot opposite James Bradberry. He was tested early, with Miami targeting him three times on the first drive of the game. Jackson was juked on his first pass defense, allowing the receiver to pick up four extra yards, but the rest of the time, he was up to the challenge. Jackson showed good downfield coverage and solid tackling ability throughout the game and appeared to lengthen his lead over veteran pickup Keyvon Seymour. The former Buffalo Bill was scorched by his old team in the opener. Against Miami, playing on the second team, he gave up a defensive pass interference late in the second quarter. Seymour was also on kickoff coverage teams early in the game, as the team seemed to be experimenting to see if he could earn a roster spot through special teams.
Captain Munnerlyn had a good game, starting in the slot and performing well on run coverage as well as blitzing the quarterback. He’ll likely play that position once the season starts and doesn’t appear to be a threat to unseat Jackson at starting corner.
Lorenzo Doss had a pair of missed tackles when he got a look at corner, and he appears to be no threat to win the starting job.
Corn Elder got a longer look at corner than in the first game and produced some big plays. He forced a fumble with a hit from behind on a long pass play to another defender’s man and had a nice three-tip interception in the fourth quarter.
Third-round safety Rashaan Gaulden entered on the second drive of the game. He was solid but not spectacular, getting hands on the quarterback on a blitz and always seeming to be around the ball.
Fourth-round defensive end Marquis Haynes had a better game than in the opener. After Haynes was stymied in one-on-one battles against blockers, coaches appeared to have him line up farther outside to get a running start against tackles. It worked, as he got great pressure on the quarterback on his first snap, early in the second quarter. In the third quarter, he beat his man, then used a quick change of direction to sack the quarterback.
Fourth-round tight end Ian Thomas got slightly less playing time, but his spot seems to be secure. He started in the two tight-end set and scored a long touchdown early in the game. He also ran down the defender on an interception (although Cam Newton ended up making the tackle). Playing into the third quarter, he showed toughness, making a catch over the middle and taking a big hit.
Fifth-round linebacker Jermaine Carter had another good game. On both of Doss’ missed tackles, Carter was there to clean up and prevent a long gain. He had a good shoestring tackle to prevent a first down just before halftime and a pair of open-field tackles in the second half to keep receivers away from the sticks. He did have a miss in the third quarter that led to a first down but otherwise was solid and clean. The team is also using him on the kickoff return team early in the game, another good sign that he’ll stick.
After he was a nonfactor in the opener, seventh-rounder Andre Smith did not play and PUP or the practice squad appears to be the destination for the former Tar Heel.
Seventh-round defensive tackle Kendrick Norton saw his playing time drop but also showed progress while he was in the game. He assisted on a tackle on a running play in the third quarter and forced his blocker to commit a holding infraction as he tried to shed his block to tackle the quarterback on a scramble. He also contributed to a big gain for Miami when he couldn’t shed a block. Norton got his hand on the running back as he passed but couldn’t slow him down.