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Difficult roster decisions loom


What is your opinion on what the 53-man roster will consist of position by position. Thanks. – Eugene in Lanham, Md.

It's getting close to crunch time for the roster, which must be pared from 90 down to 75 on Aug. 27 (leading into the final preseason game) and down to the final 53 on Aug. 31 (shortly after the final preseason game). I detailed the typical number of players an NFL team keeps at each position in a recent Ask Bryan piece. Based on those thresholds, three position groups stand out to me as particularly intriguing as cuts approach.

As seems to be the case every year, decisions at wide receiver are going to be tough. Steve Smith and Brandon LaFell are the starters, and Armanti Edwards (based on his preseason) and Ted Ginn (based on his return ability) appear to have established roles. David Gettis has been outstanding in the preseason while Domenik Hixon has been sidelined, though the offseason acquisition returned to practice Sunday. Second-year player Joe Adams and third-year player Kealoha Pilares are developing receivers with special teams acumen. What is a general manager to do?

It's a similar story in the defensive backfield, where there may room for a little more than half of the 16 cornerbacks and safeties on the roster. And don't forget the running back position, where it clearly would be surprising if DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart, Mike Tolbert or rookie Kenjon Barner didn't make the roster. Tauren Poole has performed well, Armond Smith has special teams ability, and Richie Brockel lines up in the backfield as much as he does at his official position, tight end.

There's always the potential for a few players to land on the practice squad, and, unfortunately, injuries sometimes play a role. But the numbers still dictate that some quality players won't be on the final roster.

Why haven't we seen Ted Ginn in the return game? – Joshua in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Head coach Ron Rivera answered that question coming off the practice field Monday, saying the coaches know Ginn's capabilities and that they wanted to see others in action.

That being said, expect Ginn to make his debut on special teams Thursday night when the Panthers visit the Baltimore Ravens.

"This is a big week because this is really your trial run, so we'll have most of our frontline specialists out there on our kickoff return team," Rivera said. "He'll get a couple of shots this week, and it will be fun to see exactly where he is and how we mesh with him."

I moved to Seattle from my native Charlotte 11 years ago but am still an avid Panthers fan. I was disappointed to see that the Panthers play the Seahawks back-to-back years in Carolina. Why does the NFL schedule non-division teams at the same location in back-to-back years? – Trac in Seattle

Under the NFL's scheduling formula, NFC teams that aren't in the same division are only guaranteed to play each other once every three years, meaning that the Panthers are guaranteed to play in Seattle just once every six years. While this is the year in that formula when the Seahawks come to Charlotte (the Panthers went there in 2010), last year's meeting was a bonus of sorts that just happened to be played in Charlotte. In addition to facing an entire NFC division each year, NFC teams also play a game against one team from each of the other two NFC divisions each year – one at home, one away – based on the previous year's standings. It was predetermined that the 2012 Panthers would host the NFC West team that finished in the same spot as them in the 2011 standings. That was Seattle.

As you may have deduced, Carolina's next guaranteed trip to Seattle is in 2016, though the Panthers could travel there based on the standings in 2015. And yes, it's possible that Seattle could travel to Charlotte for the third consecutive time in 2014.


Bryan, I noticed players wearing yellow helmets during training camp. What are they for? It seems like they are used on special teams drills. – Wilson in Charlotte

You are correct about it being related to special teams. Players wear cloth caps over their helmets, typically yellow and red ones, to designate what unit they're on during special teams drills. They're necessary because while the offense and defense wear different-colored jerseys in practice, offensive and defensive players find themselves on the same side of the ball in special teams situations. It's just more convenient than shirts versus skins.

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