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Five things to watch vs. Detroit: A final look at depth 

Five Things to Watch 8/24

CHARLOTTE – There's one more chance for Frank Reich, the coaches, and the Panthers' front office to get a live-action look at their roster before Tuesday's cutdown to 53.

And between roster depth at key spots and another look at the offensive starters, they'll have plenty to watch out for.

The Panthers face the Lions in an 8 p.m. kickoff at Bank of America Stadium on Friday. The game will be broadcast on CBS (WBTV locally in Charlotte), and fans can check out all the broadcast information here.

Here are five things to keep an eye on as you're watching.

More looks for receivers

There are plenty of uncertainties swirling around the receivers heading into the preseason finale.

Reich declined to share details on DJ Chark Jr.'s hamstring injury that kept him out of Wednesday's practice, and Laviska Shenault Jr. has missed the last two while in concussion protocol. Couple that with Terrace Marshall Jr., who hasn't been at practice after sustaining a back injury last week, and Damiere Byrd, who landed on injured reserve with a hamstring injury, and the Panthers' once-crowded room could be thinning considerably.

Adam Thielen and Jonathan Mingo are the lone top-of-the-unofficial-depth-chart receivers with full availability expected against the Lions.

It does leave opportunities for Javon Wims, the training camp addition who has flashed with the backup offense throughout the first two preseason games, Derek Wright, a camp playmaker who got some more looks during Wednesday's practice, or even Gary Jennings, who caught a touchdown from Jake Luton in the fourth quarter of last week's matchup with the Giants.

Shi Smith

Shi Smith is another pass-catcher who could get more targets as the group, like all positions, are evaluated for a final time in a preseason game.

"Shi has made plays," Reich said. "We're happy with the progress that he's made. (It's an) ongoing evaluation of every position. As I said the other day, this is a great opportunity for guys to get one last opportunity to put something on tape in a game, in a preseason game. So we don't take that lightly.

"We get geared up for this. We know it's a preseason game. I was thinking about it earlier, I mean, all the preseason games I've been a part of as a player and a coach, I really don't remember the score of any of those games. But I remember a lot of plays and players, you know, impact things that happened over those times, so this is an opportunity for someone to make an impact."

Another shot for the first-team offense

Reich said he will play the starters in the final preseason game, which means another shot for Bryce Young's unit to string together plays, and potentially score their first touchdown as a first-team unit.

Young and the ones led a field goal drive against the Giants, but they have yet to find the end zone in the preseason.

"Sometimes a lot of teams won't play their starters in the last preseason game," Reich said. "We're going to play Bryce and play our offensive starters. (We) still want to get more reps; I think we had about 20 last week or something like that. It's kind of TBD again. It could be about the same, could be a little less, could be a little bit more. (We would) like to get a little rhythm going, accomplish certain things. So we'll play it by ear."

Bryce Young

Young underwent his first game-week schedule, as the Panthers switched practice times to mimic how the regular season would feel in just a few weeks.

He said he's staying prepared to go in for however many snaps or series the coaches call for him, and he feels confident that they'll have it together before Sept. 10 at Atlanta.

"That's our job – it's to stay ready, make sure that we're always prepared," Young said. "I feel like there's definitely stuff I want to improve on and get better at. There's stuff throughout this week that we're looking at to grow in. And this is a different week now process-wise. So this is kind of another step in the direction of having a more game-like process, scheduling, and things like that.

"It's great to have that under our belt. But of course, it's our job to be ready and stay ready. And we understand when the regular season starts, but we have to do everything we can to work toward that, day in and day out."

Chandler Zavala, Bradley Bozeman

Continuity along the offensive line

The Panthers are opting for continuity in the preseason finale, starting rookie Chandler Zavala at right guard as they did against the Giants.

Zavala's filling in for Austin Corbett as he continues to recover from an ACL injury. Cade Mays, who worked his way back to the practice field this week after a neck stinger, had slotted in for most of training camp. 

The Panthers elected to rotate Mays, Justin McCray, and Michael Jordan at the spot in the three first-team drives in the first preseason game, but the last two games will help build a sense of chemistry with the group protecting Young.

Raequan Williams

Defensive line depth

Carolina has another chance to look at some different players along the defensive line this week.

That list includes Raequan Williams, who had a strong showing against the Giants with four total tackles, a sack, and two quarterback hits.

A practice squad holdover from last season, Williams is one of many playing for a spot against Detroit, along with fellow depth linemen Nick Thurman, LaBryan Ray, Antwuan Jackson, and Taylor Stallworth.

"Raequan's looked good," Reich said. "He'll probably get a fair amount of time in this game. We'll meet as a staff and finalize the exact plan, kind of have the coaches submit that. We've talked about it all week, you get to the end of the week, just make sure where you're at health-wise, and then go from there. But I would anticipate he'll get some time."

Derrick Brown, Shy Tuttle, and DeShawn Williams anchor the first-team defensive line. Brown got the night off last week at New York.

Eddy Piñeiro's availability

Eddy Piñeiro told reporters Wednesday that he felt "amazing" and ready to go for Friday's preseason closer.

At the same time, they've been playing it safe with Piñeiro's groin injury on his kicking leg, and he's trusting their plan for him – even if he doesn't go against the Lions.

"I think it would be great," Piñeiro said. "I feel like I have some good game experience, but obviously, it's good to be out there and have some guys rush at you and try to block your kick, mentally get going. I would love it, but again, I'll leave it up to him.

"Put me in, coach. I'm ready," he said with a laugh.

Fill-in kicker Matthew Wright came in to close training camp and has done a fine job in the two preseason games, making both of his field goal attempts at New York last week. He'll get another look if the coaches opt to sit Piñeiro, who said he kicked up to 43 yards during practice Wednesday.

Either way, Piñeiro, who has earned his role as the starting kicker upon return per Reich, said he expected to be ready for Week 1 at Atlanta.

Scenes from the Panthers' practice on Wednesday before hosting the Detroit Lions this week.

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