Momentum shifts in key Panthers position battles

Carolina’s second preseason game sees movement at long snapper and backup quarterback

Panthers linebacker Frankie Luvu improved his chances of earning a roster spot with his play Saturday against the Ravens in Carolina's second preseason game. (Jacob Kupferman / AP Photo)

The Carolina Panthers dropped their first home preseason game to drop to 0-2 in the shortened three-game warm-up schedule. The team struggled to finish drives on offense and fell to Baltimore, 20-3.

After nearly the entire starting 22 players sat out the opening game in Indianapolis, the Panthers’ starters were on the field for a brief taste at the start of the Ravens game.

That includes quarterback Sam Darnold, who made his debut in a Panthers uniform. Darnold was on the field for seven plays — two passes and five runs — and led the team to the Ravens 1-yard line before a fourth-down play was stopped short.

Darnold hit Robby Anderson, a former teammate with the Jets, on his first play from scrimmage for a 16-yard gain as a defender closed in on him in the backfield. The team later agreed to terms with Anderson on a two-year contract extension for a reported $29.5 million, keeping him on the Panthers until at least age 30.

Darnold’s second pass wasn’t as impressive. He appeared to get happy feet on the goal line as the line struggled to maintain a pocket and threw it out of the back of the end zone. Still, playing without top receiver DJ Moore and All-Pro running back Christian McCaffrey, the starting offense looked solid in a brief glimpse.

Here’s a look at how the other preseason storylines progressed in game two.

The long-snapper battle

J.J. Jansen may just pull the upset and keep his job against younger, cheaper rookie Thomas Fletcher. Jansen, the elder statesman, was perfect on three first-half snaps. Fletcher’s first snap was on a third-quarter punt, and punter Joseph Charlton had to take a big step to his left. He then barely got the kick off as a potential blocker closed in.

Fletcher had an even bigger flub later in the game when he was flagged for holding on a fourth-quarter punt.


This competition also saw an extreme momentum swing. PJ Walker looked like he’d wrapped up the spot in the preseason opener against the Colts, but Will Grier made a case for himself against the Ravens. He completed 12 of his first 13 passes and finished with 144 yards.

Beyond his statistics, Grier looked confident and crisp running the offense, avoiding the dump-offs and safe throws that we saw against Indy. Instead, he was aggressive, looking downfield and hitting receivers. He also showed an ability to throw on the move, rolling out for big pass plays on several occasions.

Walker struggled to a 1-for-8 day and was inaccurate, throwing over and behind receivers on several plays. He also threw deep into double coverage twice. His accuracy and risk-taking were two red flags in an otherwise impressive opening performance, and they caught up to him against Baltimore.

The rookies

First-rounder Jaycee Horn played for the first time. He was targeted once, on an incompletion, on the second drive. He also got downfield to block on Haason Reddick’s interception. He didn’t block well, but he hustled to get into position.

Second-round wide receiver Terrace Marshall started and had three catches — a quick out, a wide receiver screen and a 36-yard catch on the sideline that was his highlight of the night. He also blocked well to clear space on a goal-line run.

Third-round offensive tackle Brady Christensen once again played two positions, starting at right guard and moving to right tackle later in the game. He again was the bright spot for the rookies, handling his man and being the lineman that running backs followed.

Third-round tight end Tommy Tremble had two catches, breaking tackles on a screen to get a first down and making a second and third effort on his second catch. He also blocked two different guys on a wide receiver screen.

Fourth-round running back Chuba Hubbard started and had a few good gains on straight-forward runs. He ran into trouble when he shifted side to side in the backfield looking for an opening. It’s a habit he’ll need to break. He missed one blitzer but blocked another on a mixed bag day in pass protection. He also had a fumble on a run but downed a punt on the 2 while playing special teams.

Fifth-round defensive tackle Daviyon Nixon once again struggled to shed blocks and make plays. He moved from tackle to end but had trouble getting penetration at either spot.

Fifth-round cornerback Keith Taylor showed tight coverage the two times he was targeted, but he went down with an injury late in the first half and didn’t return.

Sixth-round wide receiver Shi Smith once again showed a flair for the flashy big play, making a leaping catch over the middle for a first down. He added another catch for a first later. He also made leaping attempts at two overthrown passes. On special teams, he made a questionable decision, picking up a bouncing kickoff that might have gone out of bounds and getting stopped at the 18.

Sixth-round guard Deonte Brown had a false start on his second snap and was benched for the rest of the drive. He returned and avoided any big mistakes the rest of the way.

Seventh-round defensive tackle Phil Hoskins again had good penetration and helped on a tackle for loss.

Helped themselves

Ian Thomas: He started at tight end and had a good block on a goal-line play.

Frankie Luvu: The linebacker had a big game, forcing a fumble, batting down a pass and contributing to a near safety. He bit hard on one play action leading to a first down in his only black mark. He may have passed Paddy Fisher, who was blocked to the ground twice and missed a tackle on a Ravens touchdown.

Hurt themselves

Trent Scott: The right tackle was beaten on his block on his third snap. He moved to left tackle and was beaten again, forcing a dump-off pass.

Chris Saunders: The receiver didn’t hurt himself with his play, but the star of early camp only got six snaps on offense and a pair of special teams plays.