6-pack: Defenses, Duke, kickers & injury updates

1.) Dominant First-String Defense

It's probably a bit too early to compare them to the '85 Bears, but the Panthers' defense made an impressive first impression Wednesday night. 

The first teamers forced the Texans into a pair of three-and-outs, limiting the visitors to negative-three yards of offense in those two series. Defensive tackle Kawann Short was particularly noticeable, racking up a QB hurry and a sack in his first three plays. 

Houston's offensive line is a work in progress, and quarterback Tom Savage won't be mistaken for Tom Brady any time soon, but this was as positive a start the defense could've hoped for. 

"It was not for long, it was six plays, but we set the tempo and the tone," safety Kurt Coleman said. "We stopped the run every time they tried, and on the passing downs, the front seven got after them. I thought we did a great job in coverage, for the plays we were out there."
 
2.) Second-String Troubles 

Soon after Short and Co. exited, the Texans marched 13 plays and 75 yards, with running back Alfred Blue capping the drive with a 16-yard touchdown. What must have been especially irksome to Carolina's coaching staff was their backups weren't able to take advantage of three Houston penalties. 

"(I was) a little disappointed in the second unit," head coach Ron Rivera said. "I know they were going against their first unit, but you'd still like to see us (do better). We had a couple of opportunities on third and long and we didn't get off the field. 

"But I thought they did a nice job closing it out."

Many of those second-teamers bounced back nicely, limiting the Texans to three points and an average of 30 yards per drive in their five second-quarter drives. 
1.) Dominant First-String Defense

170810_first_team.jpg

It's probably a bit too early to compare them to the '85 Bears, but the '17 Panthers' defense made an impressive first impression Wednesday night. 

The first teamers forced the Texans into a pair of three-and-outs, limiting the visitors to negative-three yards of offense in those two series. Defensive tackle Kawann Short was particularly noticeable, picking up a QB hurry and a sack in his first three plays. 

Houston's offensive line is a work in progress, and quarterback Tom Savage won't be mistaken for Tom Brady, but this was as positive a start the defense could've hoped for. 

"It was not for long, it was six plays, but we set the tempo and the tone," safety Kurt Coleman said. "We stopped the run every time they tried, and on the passing downs, the front seven got after them. I thought we did a great job in coverage, for the plays we were out there."

2.) Second-String Struggles

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As soon as Short and Co. exited, the Texans marched 13 plays and 75 yards, with running back Alfred Blue capping the drive with a 16-yard touchdown. What must have been especially irksome to Carolina's coaching staff was their backups weren't able to take advantage of three Houston penalties.

"(I was) a little disappointed in the second unit," head coach Ron Rivera said. "I know they were going against their first unit, but you'd still like to see us (do better). We had a couple of opportunities on third and long and we didn't get off the field. 

"But I thought they did a nice job closing it out."

Many of those second-teamers settled down after the touchdown, limiting the Texans to three points and an average of 30 yards per drive in their five second-quarter drives. 

3.) Kicking Competition

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Incumbent kicker Graham Gano has been solid throughout the spring and summer, but these preseason games will ultimately decide his fate. So his first try, a 50-yard miss that hit the left upright, wasn't ideal. 

"It felt good," Gano said, "but I think I came around it just a little bit."

When Gano got another chance in the second quarter, he knocked through a 45-yarder. 

"That's what makes me a veteran is being able to bounce back after a miss," he said. "It's preseason game one, so get that miss out of the way and have a good game against Tennessee."

Gano's competition with seventh-rounder Harrison Butker hasn't felt like much of one. But things may now get more interesting after the rookie made his only attempt – a 51-yarder – midway through the fourth quarter.

"I was a little disappointed when Graham on that first kicked hooked it, but he came back strong and drilled the ball. He's having a really good camp right now," Rivera said. 

"Harrison did a really good job, he really did. He stroked it, the 51-yarder. I don't think he hit that fully, but it was right down the middle." 4.) Duke's Up-and-Down Debut

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Imagine being Austin Duke.

You grew up in Charlotte; you played for the city's college football team, and now you're getting a chance with the big boys.

It'd be understandable if butterflies led to some first-game mistakes.

"I wasn't nervous," the undrafted rookie claimed. "I've just got to slow things down and go out there and be who I am."

Whatever emotions he was feeling, Duke got off to a rough start in his debut. His first target, a short pass from Garrett Gilbert, was originally ruled a fumble that the Texans took back for a touchdown. But replay reversed the call.

On the Panthers' very next play, Duke got another chance, but he dropped the ball.

"That's life, man. That's football," Duke said. "Of course you want to go out there and catch every pass, be great and show your worth. But sometimes adversity's going to strike and how you handle that adversity says a lot about a man's character."

So give Duke credit for turning his bad start into a better ending. On the Panthers' next drive, he caught two passes for a total of 34 yards.

5.) Sophomore Setback?

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After a high ankle sprain limited defensive tackle Vernon Butler to 10 games last season, coaches spent much of the spring raving about the 2016 first-round pick. Now he may be facing another setback.

With 5:15 left in the first quarter, Butler was pursuing a Texans' quick toss when he was blindsided by tackle Breno Giacomini, who delivered a vicious crack-back block. Butler immediately clutched at his left knee before rolling over and pounding the ground in anger. Trainers then helped him off the field, wrapped the knee in ice and sent him on a cart back to the locker room.

Rivera didn't have an update after the game, but it's unlikely Butler will practice Friday afternoon in Spartanburg. The Panthers will get a better sense of how much time he'll miss beyond that if and when he undergoes an MRI.

6.) Newton Update

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The shoulder of Carolina's biggest cheerleader looked just fine on the sideline.

Quarterback Cam Newton celebrated the Panthers' three respective touchdowns with his usual energy, leaping into the arms of Derek Anderson, high-fiving quarterbacks coach Ken Dorsey and chest-bumping wideout Damiere Byrd.

But how close is Newton to getting off the sideline and into a game?

"He's progressing. He threw well again today," Rivera said. "I think his rehab is going very nicely. He's feeling good. He threw today. He said he didn't have any discomfort afterward, so that's a huge plus."

Newton is expected to throw again during the players' off day on Thursday, and if all goes well, his next step could feature a return to individual drills during Friday's practice.

View the best photos from Panthers vs. Texans by team photographer Melissa Melvin-Rodriguez.

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