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What to watch: Panthers vs. Giants

Posted Aug 12, 2011

In light of the shortened offseason, head coach Ron Rivera said the Panthers' starters will be on the field longer during preseason games.

That's the long and short of it at most positions – but maybe not at quarterback.

Jimmy Clausen will start at quarterback Saturday when the Panthers open the preseason against the New York Giants at Bank of America Stadium (8 p.m., Panthers TV).

"I'm pretty excited about that," Clausen said. "I can't wait to get out there."

Cam Newton will be out there as well. Rivera has said that the quarterback competition is too close to call at this early juncture, meaning both should get their share of snaps against the Giants.

At many other positions, however, established starters should expect to see more snaps than usual given all the lost offseason workout time and new playbook.

"This has been a shortened offseason, so the guys who are going to play the most need the most reps to get looks and live contact," starting strongside linebacker James Anderson said. "Usually you have OTAs and mini-camps to get a feel for each other. Without that time, you need to get more time on the field."

Regardless of who is on the field, everyone is excited that football is back. Rivera, who will be making his head coaching debut, is at the top of that list.

"I'm excited as heck," he said. "It's what I've worked for and dreamed about. Now the opportunity is here, and I most certainly want to jump on it."

Here are some jumping-off points for the 2011 debut.

QUARTERBACK PLAY: Clausen and Newton will continue to compete for the starting job throughout the preseason, but regardless of who is under center when it happens, the offense needs a better start to the preseason in 2011. In the 2010 preseason, the Panthers failed to score an offensive touchdown, and then in the regular season they scored more than 18 points just three times.

After seeing what happened at Fan Fest last Saturday, left tackle Jordan Gross believes a faster start is possible.

"Traditionally, since I've been here Fan Fest hasn't gone that well for the offense, so it was pretty exciting to see some success out there," Gross said. "I think it just shows we're a little further along on offense than a lot of people thought. We've still got a long road ahead of us, but I am optimistic about what we can do."


CATCHING ON: Every quarterback needs reliable targets, and the competition among the wide receivers for starting and roster spots is intense.

Steve Smith is a given, though he won't play Saturday while he recovers from a minor finger injury, but no one else is being handed anything. It's even more wide-open (if that's possible) with the news Thursday that David Gettis is out with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. Gettis led the team with three touchdown receptions and ranked second to Smith with 508 yards receiving as a rookie in 2010.

Brandon LaFell, also a rookie in 2010 who nearly matched Gettis' production, could be the next man up, but plenty of others could emerge.

Armanti Edwards has sparkled at times, as has acquisition Legedu Naanee, veteran David Clowney and rookie Kealoha Pilares. The ability to contribute on special teams may play a role in the receiver rotation, a strength of Wallace Wright and Charly Martin.

All told, there are 11 receivers on the roster (not counting Gettis) competing for about a half-dozen roster spots.


HOLDING THE LINE: It will be interesting to track how the Panthers' inexperienced defensive interior performs, especially with the loss of tackle Ron Edwards.

While Edwards has played in 128 NFL games over his 10 seasons, the Panthers' other eight defensive tackles have combined to play in 62 games. The large majority of those belong to fourth-year pro Nick Hayden - who started 10 games last season - and DelJuan Robinson, who was out of football before the Panthers picked him up when Edwards went on injured reserve.

There's no substitute for experience, but talent is a good place to start, and the Panthers have that. They're excited to see what rookies Sione Fua and Terrell McClain can do and like the potential flashed by Corvey Irvin and Andre Neblett.


GENERAL PREPAREDNESS: The coaching staff has done everything in its power to get the team as prepared as possible to play a game, but there are only so many hours in the day.

With new coaches and all the offseason opportunities missed, the Panthers have had extremely productive walkthroughs at training camp, but will all their operations be up and running?

"If we do anything on Saturday, I really expect us to play hard," Rivera said. "That's the only thing I can ask of our guys - play hard - and we'll go from there."

The good thing is that it's the first preseason game, and a live game should expose areas where more emphasis is needed.


YOUTH ISN'T SERVED: With barely enough time to get the starters schooled on the basics, it puts younger players in a tough spot. Their chances to shine Saturday will be limited, and their reps in practice to get them up to speed have been limited as well.

"The young guys have to be ready for their opportunities," Rivera said. "Hopefully, they're taking the time to spend in their books and they're asking their coaches for a little extra help, because they're going to need it."

It's going to take a lot for an undrafted rookie or an inexperienced free agent to catch the eye of the staff, but someone always finds a way. Possible candidates include cornerback Kendric Burney and offensive lineman Byron Bell.