CHARLOTTE – The Panthers are set to play another NFC South foe this week in their home opener.
The New Orleans Saints (1-0) come to Carolina (0-1) for a matchup on Monday Night Football this week in Bank of America Stadium. It'll be the Panthers' first regular-season matchup at home and their second game against a divisional opponent this season, after they opened the year with a 24-10 loss on the road at Atlanta.
The game will be broadcast nationwide on ESPN at 7:15 p.m. Monday. Fans can find more information on ways to tune in here.
Here are five things to keep an eye on as you're watching.
Cornerback depth vs. Saints' passing game
With starting cornerback Jaycee Horn (hamstring) placed on injured reserve this week, the Panthers are having to lean on depth in the secondary against a Saints offense that produced the league's fifth-most passing yards (282) in Week 1.
And head coach Frank Reich said he feels confident in what they have back there.
"We like that group," Reich said. "We like the group, the depth. CJ is extremely talented. Troy's that savvy veteran. Of course, Donte is our guy back there. So we feel like that's a good group. We feel like we can be versatile with those guys in how we play, and (we're) excited about them stepping up."
They also have D'Shawn Jamison, a relatively new addition claimed off waivers from San Francisco on Aug. 30, and Sam Webb, a brand-new addition signed to the 53-man roster from the Raiders' practice squad this week.
New Orleans has a host of talented receivers for new quarterback Derek Carr to throw to, including Chris Olave, Michael Thomas, and Rashid Shaheed, creating matchups to watch Monday.
Bryce Young at home – in primetime
Bryce Young, the Panthers' first overall pick from this year's draft, will make his regular-season Bank of America Stadium debut on Monday night, a primetime opportunity for the rookie signal-caller to make an impression in NFC South play at home.
Young's never appeared to be the type to let these moments – externally large in magnitude – overshadow the task at hand, and that trend continued this week.
He said in this week's press conferences that the team was focused on the mission, and that's winning their first game as a unit.
"I think it's a great opportunity," Young said of playing on Monday Night Football. "Of course, it's a great opportunity and a blessing to have that type of platform. For us as a team, I think it's great, and it's really cool. But at the same time, we're still playing on the same field we would have if it was on Sunday. We're still going to have to execute against a great team in New Orleans. So it's really cool; it's a great opportunity, but at the same time, it's still football. It's still going to be the same plan or the same thing we would have done if it was Sunday.
"Probably, in retrospect, when we move past it, it'll be kind of a cool tidbit to look back at. But right now, it's not really something that's – I don't think – on the forefront of anyone's mind. It's more making sure that we do what we need to do, throughout these days, to be in a position where we we want to be in, and do what we have to do on Monday. And at the end of day, again, it's still, regardless of the day, we have a big challenge ahead of us. So I think really all the focus is just making sure we're ready for that."
Young completed 20 of his 38 passes in his NFL debut against the Falcons last week, accumulating 146 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. He averaged 3.8 yards per attempt, earning a 48.8 rating.
There was some good to reflect upon and some less impressive moments to grow from, and Young said he and the offense were focused on turning the page there this week.
"There's good stuff on film, just as a team and as a unit," he said. "For one reason or another, I don't think we executed when it was important. We didn't do all the things we wanted to, that we needed to do to win the game. So I think just tying everything together and executing is definitely going to be something that is an area of focus for me and the entire team."
DJ Chark's Carolina welcome
But one piece of the offense Young didn't have in his first start should be returning against the Saints, and that's good news for all of them.
Wide receiver DJ Chark Jr., who was recovering from a hamstring injury in Week 1, made his way back to practice late last week and returned to full participation in Saturday's practice, the last one before New Orleans.
Chark and Young developed a strong connection (particularly in the downfield passing game) throughout training camp before Chark sustained the injury.
Reich sounded positive about Chark's availability for the Saints' game, and the former Detroit Lion was officially listed as questionable on the Panthers' shortened injury report this week. Chark would make his Panthers debut if he plays on Monday.
"He'll be ready for the game, so long as he doesn't have any setbacks from (Saturday), which I don't think – I thought he looked good this week," Reich said. "We'll see if he's on a pitch count or not, possibly a pitch count. We'll play that by ear as we go."
Watching the guards
Not unlike the cornerback room, the Panthers will be looking for strong performances along the interior offensive line, which suffered a setback when starting left guard Brady Christensen was placed on injured reserve for a biceps injury after the Atlanta game.
The group was already without its starting right guard, Austin Corbett, on the physically unable to perform list while he recovers from an ACL injury sustained in the final game of last season (at New Orleans in January). So losing Christensen gives young players an opportunity to step up.
Reich confirmed that versatile second-year lineman Cade Mays has earned a starting spot, though he declined to mention if he'd line up on the left or the right. Rookie Chandler Zavala settled into the right guard spot through the preseason and started there in Week 1, but he has experience playing beside left tackle Ikem Ekwonu during their time together at N.C. State, so that swap could always be on the table.
Reich said there "may be some rotation" at guard against the Saints, leaving a chance for Nash Jensen or another one of their depth options to see some snaps. Mays took a majority of first-team right guard reps during OTAs, before the team decided to move forward with Zavala there in the preseason.
Brian Burns set to build upon strong start
Outside linebacker Brian Burns ended up receiving credit for 2.0 full sacks at Atlanta, following the league's statistical adjustment, reflecting a strong start for the Panthers' star defender.
It's a good sign for Burns, who said he is already all back in the football frame of mind. He said in Saturday's press conference that the contract discussions that floated in the Week 1 narrative are "on hold."
Burns also said those talks are "in the back (of my mind), but like way, way, way in the back."
"We haven't really been in talks because I already told them, once the season starts, I'm all about ball," Burns said.
"My main thing has always been to level up my game and really dominate games, and that's all my focus is on."
View photos from the Panthers' practice on Thursday.