CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Thursday night’s preseason finale against Pittsburgh is the final chance for many Carolina Panthers hopefuls to make the team’s roster this season.
By 4 p.m. Saturday, interim general manager Marty Hurney and head coach Ron Rivera will have made their final decisions, trimming the roster from 90 active players in the preseason to the final 53-man group that will comprise of this year’s team.
So what can fans expect from Thursday’s game? For one, don’t look for star players, such as Cam Newton, Luke Kuechly, and Greg Olsen. Panthers radio analyst and Charlotte Today host Eugene Robinson says it’s simply not worth the risk.
“Typically, in the last preseason game, none of the veterans play,” Robinson explained. “You don’t want them to get hurt.”
OK, so there aren’t any veterans, but what about young players like first-round draft choice Christian McCaffrey? Again, Robinson says it’s highly unlikely. With McCaffrey’s status on the roster secure, there’s no reason to put him on the field in the final warmup for the regular season.
There are a number of position battles Robinson will be watching as the preseason comes to a close, including placekicker and punter. Veteran kicker Graham Gano has been in a battle with rookie Harrison Butker throughout camp, but it seems the veteran is likely to keep his job.
Perhaps the most competitive roster battle is at linebacker, where several players are fighting for what could be just two roster slots. Jeremy Cash, Jared Norris, Ben Jacobs, and Ben Boulware are among the defenders battling to make the cut, and their ability to contribute on special teams will go a long way in determining who suits up for Carolina this season.
Robinson says the pressure is definitely on because, after Thursday’s game, there are no more dress rehearsals to prove you can play.
“If they don’t show their stuff, they will be cut. That’s the harsh reality of it.”