Panthers Healthy, Cam Newton To Pass Against Banged Up Buccaneers Secondary
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With both the Carolina Panthers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers each scrambling to find comfort in their depth charts, it’s Tampa Bay that may really be hurt by the injuries on their roster, exposing vulnerabilities in key match ups. Carolina quarterback Cam Newton had a record setting rookie campaign passing the ball, and could have a field day to start his second year against a secondary that is hobbling into Week 1.
OUT: Center/Guard Jeff Byers (knee)
QUESTIONABLE: Running Back Jonathan Stewart (ankle)
PROBABLE: Linebacker Jon Beason (thigh); Wide Receiver Steve Smith (foot)
DOUBTFUL: Cornerback E.J. Biggers (foot); Cornerback Anthony Gaitor (hamstring)
QUESTIONABLE: Wide Receiver Arrelious Benn (knee)
For the Panthers the loss of Jeff Byers isn’t significant enough to worry about as he is the backup at center behind Ryan Kalil, and second on the depth chart at left guard with Amini Silatolu holding down the starting job.
Jonathan Stewart is a much bigger concern because he did not practice all week, so Deangelo Williams will have to carry most of the burden at running back. Mike Tolbert could slide over from fullback to give Williams a breather.
The two big stories for Carolina this week were about Beason and Smith after both missed significant time during the preseason.
Jon Beason was hampered by a hamstring problem and did not return to practice until just before the Panthers had to get out of town because of the Democratic National Convention. Head coach Ron Rivera was happy to see him back on the field but how effective he will be remains to be seen. Former Raven Jason Phillips is ready to step in.
With Beason at full strength, flanked by high-profile first-round pick Luke Kuechly, and seven-year pro James Anderson, the Panthers have a solid starting linebacker corps.
Steve Smith was held out of the final two preseason games more as a precaution than anything else because of a foot infection. He admitted he was a little behind but before leaving Charlotte for Florida he did not sound like a man who was going to miss any game time in the opener.
The 33-year old out of Utah is one of the premier receivers in the NFL, and has the Bucs in his sights looking to get a bit of revenge for slowing him to just three catches for 41-yards in two games last year. If he has a big game it will go a long way to getting 1,300 yards in back-to-back seasons for the first time in his career.
The Buccaneers are hurting in the secondary with Biggers and Gaitor more likely to be bystanders than participants. Eric Wright and Aqib Talib are still the starters, but the lack of depth at that position leaves Tampa Bay vulnerable to a pass happy Cam Newton at quarterback. Rookies Brandon McDonald and Leonard Johnson plus third-year pro Myron Lewis are the reserves. Depending on the situations, Ahmad Black and 37-year old future Hall of Famer Ronde Barber will have to slide over to corner to help out.
The Bucs have depth at wide receiver and Benn could see some action despite being listed as questionable, as he participated in full practice all week.
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Ted Fleming is a freelance writer covering all things Carolina Panthers. His work can be found on Examiner.com.