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Panthers ponder roster decisions

Posted Aug 29, 2014

Roster will be reduced to 53 on Saturday in advance of the regular season. How will the Panthers get there?

The Carolina Panthers have spent the last month figuring out their identity for the upcoming season.

That question will literally be answered Saturday, when what was once a roster of 90 will be trimmed to the chosen 53 in advance of the season opener.

"There are some very tough decisions to be made," head coach Ron Rivera said Thursday after the Panthers concluded the preseason  "A lot of guys came out and gave us their all. It's going to be tough, but a lot of these guys had an opportunity to play and make some plays.

"Now we'll see how it unfolds."

Here are a few questions that remain as decision day looms.

How many quarterbacks will the Panthers carry?

Throughout the preseason, quarterback Joe Webb took a healthy approach to his eventual fate.

"The only thing I can control is the way I perform on the field," Webb said. "I try not to worry about that. I let upstairs handle that."

While Webb presumably was referring to general manager Dave Gettleman and Co., he and several of his teammates might say a little prayer tonight. Webb's prayer is likely to be answered, with Rivera saying earlier in the week that Webb deserved serious consideration even before a rib injury to starter Cam Newton necessitated more options at quarterback.

The Panthers carried just Newton and Derek Anderson on the active roster last season before eventually adding Matt Blanchard to the practice squad. Given that Blanchard is on injured reserve, Newton is on the mend and Webb is on fire, it looks like Carolina will enter the season with three quarterbacks.

Who will join "Triple Trouble" in the backfield?

With the running backs the Panthers picked the sixth round of the 2013 and 2014 drafts (Kenjon Barner and Tyler Gaffney) no longer on the roster, the chase to join DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart and Mike Tolbert has been an interesting one.

Fozzy Whittaker, the most recent addition to the roster (on July 27) could well be the answer. He led the team with 43 carries for 179 yards in the preseason and did so with a hard-charging style, and he also isn't short on special teams abilities. Undrafted rookie Darrin Reaves made his mark in the preseason opener before Whittaker really took off, but Reaves missed the last three preseason games with a leg injury. It's hard to make the club if you're in the tub, though the expanded 10-player practice squad could be in his future depending on the nature of his injury.

How will the numbers shake out in the secondary?

The Panthers could possibly keep 10 defensive backs, but nine is more the norm and could be the plan with three quarterbacks likely to make it. That could make it particularly crowded at safety, with veteran additions Thomas DeCoud and Roman Harper, 2013 contributors Colin Jones and Robert Lester, and rookie draft pick Tre Boston among the candidates.

That's part of the reason the Panthers moved Charles Godfrey from safety to cornerback this offseason, but injuries to Lester and Boston led to Godfrey appearing at safety again in the last week of the preseason. Those injuries could play a real role in whether a Josh (Norman or Thomas), for example, makes the cut at cornerback along with Melvin White, Antoine Cason and rookie Bene Benwikere.

Will the initial 53-man roster include the Week 1 punt returner?

"Yes, without a doubt," Rivera said when asked if undrafted rookie Philly Brown could play that role in the opener. "That's why he is here."

Brown returned nearly 50 punts and averaged nearly 10 yards per return at Ohio State, but he had difficulty securing a punt for the second time this preseason in the finale.

"That's all right," Rivera said. "He's out there to learn, too. That's why he was out there to return all of them. He's got to continue to work and get comfortable."

Will the initial 53-man roster be the same come Week 1?

History suggests that it won't be, with the roster decisions made by other teams around the league opening up the possibility that the Panthers will turn over a slot or two in first day or two after cuts by claiming a player off waivers or signing a free agent.

So while players that make the roster by the skin of their teeth probably should hold off on throwing a party, those who don't make it shouldn't hold a pity party. Just last year, veteran cornerback Drayton Florence was a surprise cut, but he was back on the team and in the starting lineup come Week 3.