Usually the fourth preseason game is the least important. The starters play a series, that is if they play at all and the game is used to determine what backups will make the 53 man roster. I say usually because that’s not what Panthers fans should expect tonight. While the backups certainly will play and some roster spots will inevitably be determined tonight this game will mean more to the Panthers. With the lack of offense this preseason, expect to see the starters on the field for a quarter or more, a far cry from the usual John Fox MO of giving the starters the night off.
Ron Rivera and the Panthers coaching staff will also be welcoming back two players who they expect to play key roles this year, Greg Hardy and Jeff Otah. Hardy the 6’4 280 pound defensive end showed flashes as an athletic pass rusher in his rookie year. Hardy will be a welcomed addition back to a defensive line that has been abysmal during the preseason. While Hardy isn’t an elite defensive end, he has shown the ability to play the run and get to the quarterback when asked to.
Right tackle Jeff Otah will be making his long awaited return after a full season off the field. Otah, who had surgery on his knee to repair torn cartilage in December of 2009 began the 2010 season on the physically unable to perform list. Otah was never able to fully recover from the surgery and was placed on injured reserve in November. Otah’s return is critical for the Panthers who severely lack depth along the offensive line. While it’s not known how much action each player will see tonight it’s great for the Panthers that they will get a chance to get back to speed before the real season begins.
The Panthers will also be hoping to see one of their young wide receivers perform well. With rookie WR Kealoha Pilares suffering a high ankle sprain in practice the Panthers desperately need someone to assert themselves as another viable option in the passing game. While Armanti Edwards and Charly Martin made key plays in the first preseason game neither has done much since. David Clowney is another option as he has impressed in practice but hasn’t been able to make many plays throughout the preseason. Brandon LaFell the likely number three receiver has made several nice grabs but also had several inexcusable drops.
So while most of the teams around the league will look to give their starters the night off there’s still much work to be done in Charlotte. With the lack of the offseason and a new coaching staff the Panthers have been playing catch up all preseason so they should look to take advantage of any work they can get in.
Panthers fans, don’t forget to join the WFNZ team at the WFNZ CPI Security Doghouse tonight at 6:00 to get ready for the game!