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Five Things to Watch: Panthers at Titans

Posted Aug 20, 2016

Starters expected to get a few more snaps, after which young hopefuls must make the most of their opportunities.

1. FOR STARTERS: The Panthers' starters will get a little more playing time in the second preseason game Saturday at the Tennessee Titans (3 p.m., Panthers TV/Time Warner), and head coach Ron Rivera wants to see the starters finish.

"I want to see the ones and twos be consistent, and I want to see us put the ball in the end zone," Rivera said. "We kicked four field goals (in the preseason opener). When you get down to the red zone, you've got to score touchdowns if you expect to win."

The Panthers led the NFL last season with touchdowns on 69.4 percent of their drives into the red zone, obviously a big part of the reason Carolina led the NFL in scoring. Quarterback Cam Newton probably won't run the ball a lot – something that could limit the offense a bit – but Rivera wants the offense to make deep runs regardless.

"I'd love to see three good drives, whether we score or not," he said. "I'd love to see consistency, see all three drives go seven, eight, nine plays."

2. RESERVE TIME IS PRIME TIME: Before the Panthers departed South Carolina at the end of training camp, a reporter asked Rivera about the performance of running back Jalen Simmons, a rookie from South Carolina State.

"He's done a nice job," Rivera said. "So many guys have stood out. But the key is to stand out at game time."

Guys like Simmons who are trying to earn their way onto the 53-man roster or practice squad can make their greatest impact come game time. Rookie wide receiver Keyarris Garrett closed camp strong, but now he needs to keep it going against the Titans. Rookie tight ends Beau Sandland and Braxton Deaver could use a similar breakout performance, and on defense, rookie linebacker Jeremy Cash would love to make a can't-miss play or two.

3. KICKING THE TIRES: Swayze Waters got the chance to handle all the punts in the preseason opener with veteran Mike Scifres still rehabbing from offseason surgery, and Waters was waived soon after. Next up is Kasey Redfern, who will get opportunities against the Titans. It's not yet clear if Scifres will.

"We know what Mike can do; we've just got to see if he's healthy," Rivera said. "With Kasey, he intrigues us with his leg. Not only does he punt, but he's also a kickoff guy, so that's something a little extra. He'll get an opportunity this weekend to punt the ball and kick off for us.

"We want to make sure Mike is fine. He's a veteran guy, an experienced guy who has done some nice things. He's hit some good balls here. He's been through it, and there's a comfort level with that."

4. RUNNING INTO A CHALLENGE:
The Titans' emerging offense features a creative form of smashmouth football according to Rivera, with quarterback Marcus Mariota equipped to spread out defenses and with running backs DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry capable of running wide but also running over defenders.

"They spread people out, move people around, shift and motion, and then they still run the ball. And it is smashmouth with a lot of inside runs, inside zone and power plays," Rivera said. "With the Heisman Trophy winner and DeMarco Murray back there, they've got a good combination of runners. They can be a force to be reckoned with."

It will be a good test for a Panthers defense that ranked fourth in the NFL against the run last season, part of a top 10 littered with playoff teams. That's no coincidence, and the Titans will provide an early look at whether the 2016 Panthers are capable of more.

5. KUECHLY READY TO GET CRACKING: When the Titans do run the ball early in the game, expect tackling machine Luke Kuechly to be right there.

Kuechly sure hopes he is, and he hopes he gets a chance to hit someone. Coming off offseason shoulder surgery, Kuechly didn't get that chance his lone drive in the preseason opener.

"Tackling – it's hard to mimic it in practice," Kuechly said. "We do a lot of good drills to mimic fitting up and getting to the ball, but there's something different about a live game and tackling someone. These games give you that opportunity."


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