NFC South: Carolina Panthers

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Carolina Panthers tight end Greg Olsen loves football.

He loves his family more.

[+] EnlargeGreg Olsen
Jeff Siner/Charlotte Observer/MCT/Getty ImagesThe Carolina Panthers organization has given Greg Olsen all the time he needs to attend to his son, T.J., who recently had open-heart surgery.
So when his football family said take unlimited time off two weeks before the season to be with his son, T.J., as he underwent open heart surgery for the third time since being born with a severe congenital heart defect in 2012, it was a relief.

"It's made life a lot easier, and it's not something I take for granted," Olsen said on Monday after returning to practice for the first time in seven days. "You would hope that it would be this way everywhere, but sometimes people aren't quite as understanding."

The Panthers have been. Team owner Jerry Richardson, who received a heart transplant in 2009, flew Olsen, his wife Kara, T.J., and other family members to Boston in 2012 to consult with doctors about an experimental surgery.

Richardson actually made the trip and spent time in hospital waiting rooms with Olsen.

"We talk about family and we want to follow up on that," Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. "Mr. Richardson has fostered a great environment here for us and we've taken the ball and run with it."

Rivera would like to believe all 32 NFL teams take the same approach. But when asked if other organizations he's been around have, he said, "Well, I just know this, I'm more involved in it a little bit more. That's all I'll say about that."

There are other examples where the Panthers put family first. Rivera made time before practice last Wednesday to play catcher for his daughter, a pitcher at UCLA, before she returned to college.

Quarterback Derek Anderson was given time off last week to be with his wife as she gave birth to the couple's first child even though it left third-stringer Joe Webb as the only healthy quarterback, as starter Cam Newton was out with fractured ribs and fourth-stringer Matt Blanchard was on injured reserve with a concussion.

"It all worked out," said Olsen, who happened to be at the same hospital as Anderson. "DA got to be there for his wife and [at Thursday's exhibition finale at Pittsburgh]. I didn't miss much. It all works out if you do things the right way."

Olsen would like to think the family appraoch has helped make the Carolina locker room and team stronger as it attempts to record consecutive winning seasons for the first time in franchise history.

"It's a special group," he said. "I've said that since I got here."

Olsen is happy to report T.J. is recovering well. But because his son remains in intensive care and is maybe weeks from being discharged, Olsen goes back and forth between the hospital and the stadium in his free time.

"He's a tough little guy," Olsen said. "He's really responded well to all three surgeries. We've had a few little hiccups, but for the most part he's on the right track."

And while there are no guarantees there won't be a transplant or other surgeries in T.J.'s future, Olsen has the support of the organization and is able to focus on football and Sunday's opener at Tampa Bay without added stress.

And the Panthers will need Olsen. He led the team in catches last season with 73. He is a big part of a two-tight end set Carolina plans to implement in an attempt to diversify the offense and take pressure off a new group of wide receivers.

Olsen vows he'll be ready.

"I haven't felt a ton of pressure to be two places at once, and I've been able to handle my family and that priority first," he said. "But also realize, this is a priority for me, too. It's important for me to be here.

"It won't be any challenge. I'll make sure I get what I have to get done. My wife is pretty understanding. She gets it."

So, apparently, do the Panthers.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Ryan Kalil couldn't help but crack a joke when Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton arrived for Monday's practice wearing a new oversized flak jacket.

"I told him in the event of a water landing it could be used as a flotation device," the Pro Bowl center and team's resident comedian said. "He didn't think that was funny, though."

[+] EnlargeCam Newton
AP Photo/Stephan SavoiaCarolina QB Cam Newton has earned admiration from his teammates for his toughness.
All jokes aside, Newton showed no obvious limitations from the fractured ribs suffered in an August 22 exhibition at New England.

He threw, according to head coach Ron Rivera and teammates, well enough that there are few if any concerns for how effective he will be in Sunday's opener at Tampa Bay. He actually threw more than anybody expected.

There seemingly are few concerns about anything surrounding Newton these days as his teammates made him a team captain for the second straight year.

It made headlines a year ago when Newton was bestowed that honor for the first time in his three seasons. After consecutive losing seasons -- 6-10 and 7-9 -- there had been questions about his ability to lead.

Those ended after the first pick of the 2011 draft led Carolina to a 12-4 record and the NFC South title. Newton continued to show his leadership during the offseason the way he stayed around the team while recovering from surgery on his left ankle.

That he's playing through whatever soreness remains from the rib injury without complaint is no more surprising than him being named captain.

"Cam's a tough guy," said tight end Greg Olsen, named a captain along with Newton, Kalil, defensive end Charles Johnson and linebackers Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis. "He's a big, strong dude. If there's one thing the team knows, if there is any way for him to be out there and play at a high level he will.

"So there's not a lot of concern for that guy for the rest of the team. He'll be out there. He'll be fine."

Newton returned to practice Monday for the first time since New England linebacker Jamie Collins stepped on his back at the end of a 7-yard scramble. He reassured his teammates he was there for them, slapping the hands of every player in the huddle before taking his first snap.

"Cam, he's a fighter, he's a leader," left tackle Byron Bell said. "Ain't nothing going to hold that guy back. He looked good out there throwing the ball, calling the plays like he never lost a step. We've just got to keep him upright and we should be fine."

That will be key. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Newton has been sacked, hit while throwing or hit while carrying the ball 467 times during his first three seasons. That's more than double the total for any other quarterback, with Houston's Ryan Fitzpatrick next closest at 230.

That Newton takes those hits and doesn't complain, that he doesn't plan to change his style and slide instead of diving head first for every yard he can get, is another reason he's a captain.

"For me, a leader is somebody who leads by example," Kalil said. "Since the day he's gotten here he's done a good job in his preparation and how important it is. We give him a hard time about his pouting from time to time, but that's a reflection of how important it is to him.

"And even then he's the best self critic of himself. His self evaluation is one of the best I've been around.

"Obviously, the success came last year. But for me, he's been that guy since Day 1 and he's proven it in how he's played and how he's grown as a player and a leader."

He gets no argument from Rivera. Asked if his quarterback is more convincing as a leader now than a year ago, he deadpanned, "He's convincing, period."
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Carolina Panthers continue to explore options at wide receiver, working out Stephen Hill and Kadron Boone on Monday.

Coach Ron Rivera said neither were expected to be signed on Monday, but didn't rule out that happening in the future.

Hill, a second-round pick by the New York Jets in 2012, was released on Saturday. The former Georgia Tech star has 45 career catches for 594 yards and four touchdowns.

Boone was released by the Eagles after being signed as an undrafted rookie out of LSU.

The Panthers kept five receivers -- Kelvin Benjamin, Jerricho Cotchery, Jason Avant, Brenton Bersin and Philly Brown -- on their 53-man roster after losing their top four from last season.

Brown made the roster as a receiver/kick returner, but his tendency to drop the ball has to be concerning despite the confidence the staff has shown in him.

Rivera said Carolina will continue to look at all positions where the team might get an upgrade.

"You gotta look at guys and see how they fit you and see if there is potential there," he said. "We have a ready list, guys we want to sign in case we get into an emergency situation."
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton was back throwing on Monday, his first participation in a full practice since suffering fractured ribs during an Aug. 22 exhibition game at New England.

Newton
Newton
Newton said last Wednesday he had no doubt he would start in Sunday's opener at Tampa Bay, and nothing he did early in practice would dispute that.

The first pick of the 2011 draft, who hasn't missed a start at Carolina, showed no limitation in his throwing motion. He ran between drills, something he didn't do all of last week, and had a full range of motion during stretching.

Newton was wearing a larger flak jacket than the one he was wearing when New England linebacker Jamie Collins stepped on the back of Carolina's franchise quarterback at the end of a 7-yard run to cause the fracture.

He did not appear hindered by that.

Also back at practice after sitting out the exhibition finale at Pittsburgh were defensive ends Charles Johnson (hamstring) and Greg Hardy, (shoulder) and right guard Trai Turner (groin).

Turner started the first two preseason games before suffering the injury. The team released Chris Scott, who started the last two preseason games, on Saturday.

Either Turner or Fernando Velasco, signed in July, is expected to start against Tampa.

Backup quarterback Derek Anderson, who suffered a bruised hand against the Steelers, showed no ill effects from the injury.
A closer look at the 53-man roster for the Carolina Panthers as they prepare for Sunday's opener at Tampa Bay:

Offense

Quarterbacks (3) -- Cam Newton, Derek Anderson, Joe Webb
  • Newton's offseason ankle surgery opened the door for Webb to join the team and Newton's fractured rib two weeks ago made it a necessity to keep Webb on the roster. Don't get me wrong, Webb played well enough in the preseason to earn a spot. But if Newton were perfectly healthy, the former UAB quarterback wouldn't be here.
Running backs (4) -- DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart, Mike Tolbert, Fozzy Whittaker
  • Whittaker is the biggest surprise in that he wasn't on the roster when training camp opened. But he led the team in rushing during the preseason and gives the team another punishing runner who sets the tone for this ball-control offense.
Wide Receivers (5) --Kelvin Benjamin, Jerricho Cotchery, Jason Avant, Brenton Bersin, Philly Jones
  • There were major questions about who Newton would throw to after Steve Smith was released in March and Carolina's next three wide receivers signed with other teams. Benjamin, the team's first-round draft pick out of Florida State, answered many of those questions with a strong preseason. Bersin wasn't a player many expect to be here in March over Tavarres King and Marvin McNutt, but he's proven to be a solid route runner and receiver. Jones made the team primarily because of his kick-return skills. Don't be surprised to see Carolina add another player here.
Tight ends (4) -- Greg Olsen, Ed Dickson, Brandon Williams, Richie Brockel
  • The second-deepest position on the team behind the defensive line. The decision to reach an injury settlement with Mike McNeil had to be tough because he was signed to a two-year deal in free agency to be the blocking tight end. The emergence of Williams made him expendable.
Offensive linemen (10) -- Ryan Kalil, Byron Bell, Nate Chandler, Amini Silatolu, Trai Turner, Garry Williams, Fernando Velasco, Brian Folkerts, Andrew Norwell, David Foucault
  • The decision to cut guard Chris Scott, who had eight starts last season, was the most intriguing. But it says a lot about what the Panthers think of Norwell and the flexibility of Velasco, who can play center and guard. Keeping Foucault on the 53-man roster was probably more out of fear he wouldn't clear waivers so the team could put him on the practice squad.
Defense

Ends (5) -- Greg Hardy, Charles Johnson, Mario Addison, Kony Ealy, Wes Horton
  • Plenty of talent to go around here. That second-round draft pick Ealy is third on the depth chart says all you need to know. And when Frank Alexander returns from a four-game suspension for violating the substance abuse policy, this position will get stronger.
Tackles (4) -- Star Lotulelei, Colin Cole, Kawann Short, Dwan Edwards
  • The same foursome that helped establish Carolina as the league's second-ranked defense a year ago. That ends Hardy and Ealy can move over and play tackle as well once again gives the Panthers one of the league's best rotations up front.
Linebackers (6) -- Luke Kuechly, Thomas Davis, Chase Blackburn, A.J. Klein, Jason Williams, Ben Jacobs
  • No real surprises here. The decision to release D.J. Smith wasn't easy, but he was re-signed to the practice squad.
Cornerbacks (5) -- Antoine Cason, Melvin White, Charles Godfrey, Josh Norman, Bene' Benwikere
  • There simply wasn't room for Josh Thomas, who began last season as one of the top four corners. The starters are set with Cason and White, and Godfrey and Benwikere sharing the nickel spot that Captain Munnerlyn had last season.
Safeties (4) -- Roman Harper, Thomas DeCoud, Colin Jones, Tre Boston
  • The Panthers showed what they thought of Boston, their fourth-round pick, by leaving him on the roster ahead of Robert Lester, even though Boston missed most of the preseason recovering from sports hernia surgery. Fortunately, a new rule allowed Carolina to put Lester on the practice squad.
Specialists (3) -- Place-kicker Graham Gano, punter Brad Nortman, deep snapper J.J. Jansen
  • There never was a doubt these three would be here.
Most significant move: This has to be the release of guard Chris Scott. He started eight games last season and started the last two preseason games at right guard with rookie Trai Turner nursing a groin injury. This sends a message that Turner is ready to start the opener at Tampa Bay. Conditioning has been an issue for Scott, but coach Ron Rivera told me on Wednesday that Scott had worked himself into a good position when I asked if he could win a starting job. The release shows how much the Panthers like guard Andrew Norwell and the confidence they have in Fernando Velasco to play center and guard.

Not King for this day: Wide receiver Tavarres King and Marvin McNutt were mentioned by general manager Dave Gettleman as young players they'd like to get a good look at when they released Steve Smith. McNutt didn't make the first cut and now King, who at one point appeared to be fourth or fifth on the depth chart, is gone.

No pick for Barner: The Philadelphia Eagles waived injured running back Kenjon Barner, meaning Carolina won't get the conditional seventh-round pick they negotiated in the trade. Barner had to make the team's 46-man active list for at least the first four games for the Panthers to get the pick.

Alexander on reserve/suspended: DE Frank Alexander, suspended for the first four games for violating the league's substance abuse policy, was placed on the reserve/suspended list. He is expected to return to the 53-man roster (depth charts will be updated shortly) after the Week 4 game at Baltimore.

What's next: Look for Gettleman to keep a close eye on the waiver wire for a wide receiver/return specialist. As much as Rivera says he likes undrafted rookie wideout Philly Brown returning punts, the drops have to make him nervous. There are quite a few interesting players available, including Jets 2012 second-round pick Stephen Hill.

Panthers moves: Cut -- LB Denicos Allen, CB Carrington Byndom, G Derek Dennis, CB James Dockery, LB Adarius Glanton, WR Tavarres King, S Robert Lester, WR Marcus Lucas, OT Andrew McDonald, S Tom Nelson, DT Drake Nevis, RB Darrin Reaves, DT Micanor Regis, LB D.J. Smith, CB Josh Thomas, DT Casey Walker, FB Michael Zordich, OG Chris Scott. Waived/injured -- T Kevin Hughes. Waived/injured settlement -- TE Mike McNeil, S Anderson Russell. Reserve/suspended -- DE Frank Alexander.
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Scott
The reported release of right guard Chris Scott means the Carolina Panthers are confident the groin injury that sidelined rookie Trai Turner in the past two preseason games won't be an issue for the Sept. 7 opener at Tampa Bay.

Scott appeared to have worked himself into position to challenge Turner for the start, but according to Pro Football Talk, he was released on Saturday as the Panthers trimmed their roster to 53.

When asked on Wednesday about the possibility of Scott starting versus the Buccaneers, coach Ron Rivera said, "Chris worked himself into a good position, and we'll see how it goes."

Scott started eight games last season before a knee injury became an issue.

A fifth-round pick by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2010, the 6-foot-4, 315-pound Scott had issues with conditioning that sidelined him for much of offseason workouts. He failed conditioning tests at Buffalo in 2013, making him available for the Panthers to sign.

The release of Scott also shows Carolina's confidence in Fernando Velasco's ability to play center and guard. Velasco signed with the Panthers in July after suffering a season-ending Achilles injury in Week 14 last season.
Carolina Panthers first-round draft pick Kelvin Benjamin jammed his middle finger and let a touchdown pass slip through his hands during Thursday night's exhibition finale at Pittsburgh.

Otherwise, the 6-foot-5, 240-pound wide receiver out of Florida State had a strong preseason and established himself as the No. 1 target the Panthers were looking for when they released Steve Smith in March.

The finger doesn't appear to be anything that will be an issue, and Benjamin played longer than he was scripted to because he wanted more time on the field. Two of his four catches for 56 yards were in traffic over the middle.

[+] EnlargeKelvin Benjamin
AP Photo/Don WrightKelvin Benjamin has been everything the Panthers were expecting when they drafted him in the first round.
"We wanted Kelvin to get some good reps,'' coach Ron Rivera said after the 10-0 victory that gave Carolina a 2-2 preseason record. "We wanted to give him the opportunity to get good plays. He is still young and is still learning, but is still a valuable part.''

As the Panthers begin preparing for the Sept. 7 opener at Tampa Bay, let's take a look at the entire 2014 draft class and how it will impact this season:

  • WR Kelvin Benjamin (first round, No. 28) -- Some teams had Benjamin rated as a second-round pick, saying he was too inexperienced and unproven. The Panthers felt lucky to get him in the first. He played like a top-10 pick during the preseason, leading the team in catches with 12 for 173 yards and a touchdown. Look for him to be quarterback Cam Newton's top wide receiver target this season. Grade: A-minus
  • DE Kony Ealy (second round, No. 60) -- The Panthers had Ealy ranked as a late first-round pick, but he's performed more like a second-rounder. He got off to a slow start in training camp, but maybe some of that had to do with the depth at his position. When you're being compared to Pro Bowler Greg Hardy and Charles Johnson, third on the team's all-time sack list, you're going to pale. Grade: C-plus
  • OG Trai Turner (third round, No. 92) -- He was the front-runner to be the starting right guard from the get-go, and was performing at a high level before a groin injury sidelined for him the last two preseason games. Whether or not he starts in the opener remains to be determined because Chris Scott has played well in his absence, but he'll play major role. Grade: B-plus
  • S Tre Boston (fourth round, No. 128) -- He underwent sports hernia surgery in June and never really got a chance to earn a roster spot. Odds are he'll be placed on injured reserve with the hope to later return to the practice squad. The Panthers like his future. Grade: Incomplete
  • CB Bene' Benwikere (fifth round, No. 148) -- Perhaps the biggest surprise of this draft class. He has played well enough to at least split time with veteran Charles Godfrey at the nickel position. Grade: B
  • RB Tyler Gaffney (sixth round, No. 204) -- The Patriots did what Carolina should have done with the former Stanford star early in camp. They stashed him on injured reserve when the roster was cut to 75. Carolina released Gaffney, who suffered a season-ending knee injury early in training camp, hoping he would clear waivers and they could place him on injured reserve. New England spoiled that plan by claiming what Carolina considered one of the better blocking backs in the draft. Had Gaffney not been injured he likely would have been the fourth back. The good news is Carolina found Fozzy Whittaker, who led the team in rushing during the preseason. Grade: F

 

Carolina Panthers' projected roster

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Examining the Carolina Panthers' roster:

QUARTERBACKS (3)
Webb looked expendable until Newton suffered a fractured rib in the third preseason game against New England. Coach Ron Rivera was fairly adamant the Panthers will keep three quarterbacks until it is clear Newton is healthy -- and maybe longer.

RUNNING BACKS (4)

Whittaker emerged as the fourth back after the trade of Kenjon Barner to Philadelphia. Darrin Reaves still could figure into the mix, but with three quarterbacks, that doesn't appear likely now.

RECEIVERS (6)

This became clearer when Tiquan Underwood, Kealoha Pilares and Toney Clemons were released. It still wouldn't surprise if the Panthers picked up a receiver/kick returner off waivers after final cuts.

TIGHT ENDS (4)
Mike McNeill was signed to a two-year deal early in free agency, but with the emergence of Williams and a nagging knee injury, he becomes expendable. It still wouldn't surprise if the Panthers kept five tight ends at what has become the deepest position outside of the defensive front. That likely would mean eight linemen instead of nine.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (9)

The key here is flexibility, which might mean eight instead of nine if the Panthers choose to keep five tight ends. Williams and Chandler can play tackle or guard. Turner can play guard and backup center. Folkerts and Velasco can play center and guard. Undrafted rookie tackle David Foucault appears to be the odd man out.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (9)

As I continue to say, don't forget defensive end Frank Alexander. He has had a great preseason, earning Rivera's vote as the MVP of camp in Spartanburg, South Carolina. But he will be suspended for the first four games for violating the league's substance-abuse policy. He will return to the 53-man roster in October.

LINEBACKERS (6)

Again, flexibility is key. Blackburn, who missed the past two preseason games with a back injury, can step in and replace Kuechly if he ever had to come off the field. He's more dependable than Klein there. Many of these players will be on special teams. D.J. Smith could figure into the mix.

CORNERBACKS (5)

The starters appear set in Cason and White. Benwikere and Godfrey will share the nickel spot. Norman is having another good preseason. This makes Josh Thomas the odd man out.

SAFETIES (4)

Flip a coin between Russell and Robert Lester for the final spot. As insurance, the Panthers are working safety-turned-cornerback Godfrey back at safety some. Godfrey's versatility to do both allows the Panthers to go with one less defensive back and keep three quarterbacks. The plan for fourth-round pick Tre Boston likely will be injured reserve or waived injured and then re-signed and placed on the practice squad.

SPECIALISTS (3)

These positions are set, barring an injury.

Observation Deck: Carolina Panthers

August, 28, 2014
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Rookie wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin is a go-to receiver regardless of who's throwing to him. Little-known running back Fozzy Whittaker deserves a roster spot. Backup quarterbacks that have barely slept in 24 hours while becoming a first-time father probably should be given the night off even if the starter is hampered by fractured ribs. Kudos to quarterback Derek Anderson for scrambling to the Steel City hours after his wife gave birth to a daughter, Amelia.

Oh, and defense wins games even when your best players are spectators.

These are a few of the things learned Thursday night in the Carolina Panthers' 10-0 victory at Pittsburgh.

Here are some other thoughts on the Panthers’ (2-2) final preseason game:
  • Nice tune-up for Benjamin: With every play it becomes more apparent that teams choosing to single-cover Benjamin on the outside are going to pay on inside slants. At 6-foot-4 and 240 pounds, he is almost unstoppable. Benjamin finished with four catches for 56 yards in just over a quarter, a sample of the kind of production expected -- and needed -- out of him as Carolina replaces its top four receivers.
  • The Fozz: Whittaker became a workhorse with starters DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart given the night off. He finished the game with 91 yards on 23 carries and ended the preseason as Carolina's leading rusher.
  • Anderson survives: The last thing Carolina wanted to see with starting quarterback Cam Newton (rib) sidelined was Anderson getting hurt, but he left in the second quarter holding his right hand. X-rays were negative. As much as the Panthers like third-stringer Joe Webb, they don't want to go into the opener with him as the backup.
  • Riverboat lives: Coach Ron Rivera set the tone for last season's turnaround with a couple of fourth-down gambles against Minnesota in the fifth game. He showed faith in his rebuilt offensive line in the first series of this one, with fullback Mike Tolbert getting the first down. It wasn't pretty, but this unit needs that kind of confidence.
  • Riverboat in reverse: With NFL defensive player of the year Luke Kuechly and fellow linebacker Thomas Davis given the night off, and with ends Greg Hardy (shoulder) and Charles Johnson (hamstring) sitting out for precautionary reasons, Carolina still managed to stuff Pittsburgh on a first-quarter, fourth-and-1 attempt en route to a shutout. It's that depth that gives Carolina one of the best front sevens in the NFL.
  • Philly in Pittsburgh: The good news is Carolina appears to have settled on Philly Brown, an undrafted rookie wide receiver out of Ohio State, as its kick returner. The bad news is he also dropped a punt -- again. He also caught a nice deep pass -- and fell down before he could score. He's a less refined version of Ted Ginn Jr.
  • What's next? Newton, who already says he'll start in the Sept. 7 opener at Tampa Bay, will be re-evaluated on Saturday during a brief walk-thru. If he's improved the last two days the way he did the first four he should be ready to practice with little to no limitations Monday.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- It's a good thing Carolina Panthers quarterback Derek Anderson won't play much past the first quarter in tonight's exhibition finale at Pittsburgh.

He needs some rest -- literally.

Anderson caught a commercial flight to Pittsburgh mid-morning on Thursday after becoming a first-time father late Wednesday afternoon to Amelia Anderson, 7.6 pounds and 20.5 inches long.

He is scheduled to start for Cam Newton, who made the trip but will not play because of fractured ribs suffered in Friday night's 30-7 loss at New England.

Anderson needed less than 24 hours to learn babies interrupt the sleep pattern of parents. He tweeted this early Thursday morning:

He later tweeted this:

Anderson later admitted to being a bit cranky when tweeting this:

.

Carolina starters aren't expected to play more than a quarter, so perhaps the Panthers can set a cot up for Anderson on the sideline while Joe Webb finishes the game.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- There's no question Cam Newton will start in the Carolina Panthers' Sept. 7 opener at Tampa Bay, but uncertainty lingers over who will protect him.

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Chandler
Most of Carolina's 22 starters are set, but Thursday night's exhibition finale will have a big impact on who protects the ailing quarterback (fractured ribs) on the right side of the line.

Rookie right guard Trai Turner (groin) is out for the second straight game, and Chris Scott has played well enough to be considered the Week 1 starter.

Scott started eight games last season, all but one at right guard, before a knee injury forced him to miss time. His biggest issue since returning for offseason workouts has been conditioning. He's got that under control and has impressed the coaches.

"Chris has worked himself into position and we'll see how it goes," coach Ron Rivera said.

Nate Chandler began training camp in a heated battle with Byron Bell for the left tackle job. When Bell secured that spot after the Aug. 17 preseason win over Kansas City, Chandler settled in at right tackle.

However, Chandler's lingering knee injury and inconsistency as a pass blocker have opened the door for veteran Garry Williams. Chandler will start against Pittsburgh, but as Rivera reminded this is a big game for him to prove he's earned the job.

Other positions up for grab are strong side linebacker and nickel back. Veteran Chase Blackburn is the returning starter on the strong side, and he missed last week's game with a back injury. He's been pushed by A.J. Klein.

Charles Godfrey entered training camp as the leading candidate to be the nickel back, but rookie Bene' Benwikere has played well enough that both will play there at times until one earns it outright.

"There are three to six positions up for grabs," said Rivera, without being specific.

Rivera said the starters will play through the first quarter against Pittsburgh. Defensive end Charles Johnson (hamstring) will not make the trip, but end Greg Hardy (shoulder) will suit up and be evaluated before game time.

Both are expected to be ready for the opener.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Let's make one thing clear, third-string quarterback Joe Webb didn't completely back into or luck into a spot on the Carolina Panthers roster.

He earned it.

[+] EnlargeAlan Branch
AP Photo/Mike McCarn"I wish Cam all the best and to get well soon," Joe Webb said. "In the meantime, I'm going to do my best to fill the void."
Sure, the fractured rib of starting quarterback Cam Newton makes keeping three quarterbacks a necessity instead of a luxury. Newton won't begin seriously throwing again until Saturday, and by then the Panthers must have their 53-man roster set.

Even though coach Ron Rivera repeatedly has said he's confident Newton will be ready for the Sept. 7 opener at Tampa Bay, he can't risk cutting Webb and then finding out his franchise quarterback can't play.

That would leave Carolina with backup Derek Anderson and searching the trash pile for a backup. They can't depend on Webb being available as well as he's played during the preseason, completing 21 of 35 pass attempts for 271 yards and two touchdowns.

He's also rushed four times for 30 yard.

That's why this post began with Webb didn't back into a roster spot. The Panthers began talking about keeping the former University of Alabama at Birmingham star after the second preseason game.

Rivera reiterated that after Tuesday's practice when the conversation turned to how Newton's injury opened up a spot for Webb.

"It's a tough position to be in, because obviously we are going to have to let a good player go to keep the extra quarterback," Rivera said. "Because of our situation, we need to. This is a necessity move.

"But at the same time, Joe's earned that. He earned his right to be on this football team right now."

Carolina coaches talked to several of Webb's former coaches before signing him to imitate what Newton does with the read option after Newton underwent ankle surgery in March.

"They thought what we do would be a good fit for what his skill set was," Rivera said. "A lot of people thought doing some of the stuff we do with Cam would fit with him.

"They're right. Those things do fit Joe very nicely. I like who Joe is. He's a hard-working, very conscientious young man who wants to do well."

Webb spent his first three seasons with the Minnesota Vikings after being selected in the sixth round of the 2010 draft. He played quarterback for the first two, starting a playoff game in 2012.

He was moved to wide receiver in 2013, catching five passes for 2013 yards. There was a time when he thought he'd never play quarterback again. Now he's getting a chance to do that at Carolina, and possibly setting the stage for a future there with another team.

"I know I'm not only performing for the Carolina Panthers, but for 31 other teams out there," Webb said. "Pretty much your game film is your résumé and you want to put your best performance on it.

"I would never want to wish for somebody to get hurt for my benefit. It was an unfortunate situation. It's just a blessing for me to come in and show my talents to the coaching staff. I wish Cam all the best and to get well soon. In the meantime, I'm going to do my best to fill the void."
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Charles Godfrey's value went up when Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton fractured his ribs.

Even though Newton is expected to start in the Sept. 7 opener at Tampa Bay, the Panthers appear set on keeping three quarterbacks on their final 53-man roster.

Godfrey
That means somebody at another position has to go. In this case, that means a defensive back, which is why Godfrey was back working at strong safety on Tuesday after spending all of the preseason at cornerback.

Because Godfrey can play cornerback, nickel and both safety positions, Carolina can juggle the defensive back numbers to keep one less player -- most likely a safety.

"When you've got a guy that can play all three positions, you might as well keep him up on everything," Godfrey said. "You never know what will happen."

Godfrey was a starting safety for his first six years with the Panthers before suffering a season-ending Achilles injury in Week 2 against Buffalo last September.

Because of his high salary-cap figure and the uncertainty of his return to full strength, the Panthers moved him to cornerback and renegotiated his contract to save more than $4 million in cap space.

But with the Panthers planning to keep Newton, Derek Anderson and Joe Webb at quarterback and the injuries at strong safety -- starter Roman Harper just returned from turf toe, backup Robert Lester is out with an ankle injury and rookie Tre Boston has been slowed by a sports hernia -- it was time to reintroduce Godfrey to safety.

He will take reps there in Thursday night's exhibition finale at Pittsburgh as well.

"That adds value to who Charles is," coach Ron Rivera said. "He can play corner, he can play nickel. Because of the slow progression of Tre, knowing that [Godfrey] is one of our guys that makes the 53, what are we going to do if we get that situation? That's why we did what we did.

"That's out of necessity. If we were to keep five safeties and those guys aren't up, that only gives us three. Knowing that Charles has that ability, we wanted to get a couple reps with him this week just to make sure on that."

Godfrey will continue to work at corner, primarily as a nickel with the top three every down corners spots belonging to Antoine Cason, Melvin White and Josh Norman.

Rivera made it clear the move to safety was not permanent.

"We've put a lot on his plate, but he seems to be handling it very nicely," he said.

Godfrey said the return to safety wasn't difficult and he likes the challenge of playing different positions.

"Like I said before we went to camp, I can play pretty much any position right there," he said. "Just keeps me polished up on things. I did a great job at corner. I'm still corner, still nickel. Just keeping me polished up on safety."
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera is confident quarterback Cam Newton will start in the Sept. 7 opener at Tampa Bay.

Newton suffered a hairline fracture in his rib during Friday night's 30-7 preseason loss at New England. He will not play in Thursday night's exhibition finale at Pittsburgh.

Newton
Newton
But judging by the way Newton moved around on Tuesday, Rivera was encouraged.

"I saw him throw a couple of balls, I saw him catch a couple of balls, I saw him bend over and pick up [a couple of balls], so I imagine it is lessening," Rivera said of Newton's pain.

"This is exactly what the doctor told us. It's just a matter of time. Get the stiffness out, the soreness out, and he'll be all right."

Among the quarterbacks who have played with fractured ribs are Dallas' Tony Romo, New England's Tom Brady and Michael Vick of the New York Jets.

While Newton has been held out of practice this week, he has been on the field going through the mental reps with players and coaches.

Asked if he had no doubt Newton would be ready for the Buccaneers, Rivera said, "I'm pretty confident. The true evaluation will come in about a week, so we'll probably be looking at this Saturday for where he is and how he is."

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