Get up, get dressed, and step outside. Take in a deep breath. Smell that? Carolina Panthers football is back, let us rejoice and be glad in it. Even though Cam Newton won’t be playing tonight, there are still quite a few things you need to watch for. Allow me to lay them out for you.

The Receivers

You won’t see much from Kelvin Benjamin, Devin Funchess, or Russell Shepard tonight. The Panthers will likely sit most of the guys that are solidified on the depth chart. That means the rest of the receivers roster has a huge opportunity to make an impression. The fifth and possibly sixth receiver positions are wide open. At this point, anyone can claim them.

You probably have heard that Brenton Bersin and Damiere Byrd are favored to make the team, and that is true. But two other names to watch for tonight are Kaelin Clay and Austin Duke. Both players are capable of stretching the field for the offense, something the team desperately needs with second round pick Curtis Samuel sitting out. If either Clay or Duke can impress this evening, they could jump ahead of Byrd and Bersin as soon as Friday.

It’s all about Shaq, baby

Carolina Panthers linebacker Shaq Thompson will likely play at least one series tonight. If there is one single member of the defense I am most interested in seeing tonight it is definitely Thompson. I suspect Shaq will have an increased role in the Panthers defense and occasionally drop back into the strong safety position at times. This “joker” hybrid position will present yet another conundrum for opposing offenses to plan on.

Will Christian McCaffrey play?

Tonight will be the first time we get to see Christian McCaffrey in an actual Carolina Panthers uniform. But will he play? I suspect he will. The Carolina Panthers priority as far as running backs go this preseason is to rest veteran Jonathan Stewart. It would not shock me to see McCaffrey in the game for two or three series tonight.

As interesting as McCaffrey’s role will be this evening, what is even more interesting is what we will not be shown. I have to believe offensive coordinator Mike Shula is sand bagging most of the looks McCaffrey will get on the field. Why give a heads up to NFL defenses? Keep it close to the vest and unleash McCaffrey in week one.

Pass Protection

Every single Carolina Panthers fan needs to keep a close eye on the Carolina offensive tackles this evening. Whether or not Matt Kalil will play is unknown. Although he says he is feeling good, he has been dealing with nagging minor injuries throughout camp. The Panthers may elect to keep him sidelined. If so, Amini Silotolu and possibly rookie Taylor Moton will see time on the left side of the offensive line.

Silotolu has looked surprisingly good in training camp. Watching him against the Houston Texans will begin to show us if he is a legitimate option should Kalil not perform as well as we hope.

Taylor Moton may see playing time all along the offensive line. At training camp, I have seen him line up at every single offensive line position except for center. It seems like the Panthers like what the rookie brings to the table, they just need to figure out how to best utilize him as a backup.

Not feeling very safe lately

The safety position for the Panthers is probably the most concerning aspect of the team. Sure, there are two starters that should perform above average. But if one of those players goes down, whoa buddy, that is trouble.

To make matters worse, Dean Marlowe was once again released due to injury. He will be placed on IR yet again once he clears waivers. This leaves a less than stellar group of players to compete for the backup roles. I’m not completely sure that player is on the Carolina Panthers roster yet. I suspect GM Marty Hurney will be on the waiver wire looking at who becomes available on cut down day. The good news here is that the Panthers aren’t too far down the waiver list. One of the benefits of going 6-10 it seems.

Agree? Disagree? Discuss with me and thousands of other Carolina Panthers fans right here.