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What to watch: Panthers vs. Bears

Posted Aug 8, 2013

The Panthers have talked all week about their desire to finally line up against someone in a different uniform, and Friday night they'll get that chance as the Chicago Bears visit Bank of America Stadium at 8 p.m. ET for the preseason opener.

"It's a good matchup for us. We're excited about it," head coach Ron Rivera said. "Our guys are ready to compete."

Rivera said the starters will get anywhere between 10-15 snaps, based on the quality of those reps.

"It's also about the flow of the game, so we'll see how that goes," Rivera said. "We'll substitute accordingly. We're trying to make sure we get some good work – it's not really about the numbers as much as it is about the good work. If we're satisfied, we'll start getting guys in and out."

Several players won't be on the field Friday due to injury. Linebacker Jon Beason, running backs Jonathan Stewart and Mike Tolbert, wide receivers Domenik Hixon and James Shaw, guard Edmund Kugbila, cornerback Josh Thomas and tight end Zack Pianalto won't play, and center Jeff Byers will only play in an emergency situation.

RUNNING BACK ROTATION: Once starting running back DeAngelo Williams exits the game, look for a trio of young running backs to get plenty of carries.

Rookie Kenjon Barner has impressed in his first training camp, but Tauren Poole and Armond Smith will get an equal opportunity to show what they can do against the Bears.

"(Kenjon) is not an every-down back because of his size, obviously, but he can be an effective guy in certain situations," Rivera said. "We are going to take a good look at Tauren Poole and Armond Smith as well. The big thing is we have three guys that we like. They've done some nice things and they all three have their own special niches.

"Tauren is a little bit more of a shifty, inside runner. (We've got) the scat back as far as Kenjon is concerned. And then Armond is probably the fastest of all of them. We'll get a good chance to see what the three of them look like."

LOOKING FOR PLAYMAKERS: The fierce competition at wide receiver has been well-documented during camp, and Rivera is anxious to see that competition unfold in the preseason.

"Make plays – that's what it is about," Rivera said when asked what he wants to see from the receivers. "We've talked a lot about Armanti (Edwards) but it's big for us to get a chance to watch him when bodies are flying around. We want to see that from the other guys – from a Joe Adams, from a Kealoha Pilares, David Gettis. We want to see those guys in traffic and see them make plays."

Wide receiver Brenton Bersin understands the importance of preseason playing time for those fighting to make the roster.

"They say it's all about how you practice in camp, but honestly, when the lights are on, it's really how you perform in the preseason games," Bersin said.

LIVE COMMUNICATION: With several new faces set to start on defense, the Panthers will get an opportunity to test their communication skills under fire.

Rookie defensive tackle Star Lotulelei, linebacker Chase Blackburn and strong safety Mike Mitchell are just a few of the new players that are eager to put that in-game communication to the test.

"I'm getting used to playing with new guys," Blackburn said. "Obviously I've been playing with them in practice, but how they are going to communicate during a game – you have a little bit more time in practice to communicate in between plays. (Friday) we'll be live in a game, trying to figure it all out."

And after working from the sidelines as the quarterbacks coach for the past two seasons, new offensive coordinator Mike Shula will be up in the coaches' booth Friday.

First-year quarterbacks coach Ken Dorsey will be his eyes and ears down at field level.

DEFENSIVE TACKLES DEBUT: Friday serves as the much anticipated debut for rookie defensive tackles Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short – the Panthers' first two selections in the 2013 NFL Draft.

Coaches and peers alike are excited about what the two linemen can bring to the defensive front, and we'll get a look at the progress they've made when they line up against the Bears' offensive line.