CHARLOTTE -- Yes, the preseason finale is a big opportunity for the guys fighting for those last few roster spots. But it's important to keep this in mind: Panthers coaches and management will evaluate the total body of work when making their final decisions.
So let's dive into some of the position areas where roster spots are still up for grabs entering this weekend:
Here’s the deal: The Panthers know what they’ve got in veteran Cameron Artis-Payne, who has been on the team for the last four years. Rookies Jordan Scarlett (fifth round) and Elijah Holyfield (undrafted) have shown flashes. And then there’s Reggie Bonnafon, who was on the practice squad last year and has had a solid camp/preseason.
There’s likely only room for two of those four on the 53-man roster, and Thursday night's game could swing things one way or the other.
But what about the other depth pieces on the O-line? Tyler Larsen provides valuable depth at center and guard. Second-year guard Taylor Hearn has earned reps. Former AAF offensive lineman Brandon Greene is intriguing, but has he shown enough?
Rivera mentioned linebacker depth “inside and outside” when he last met with the media on Tuesday. Luke Kuechly and Shaq Thompson are the obvious starters inside and Jermaine Carter has established himself as the third backer. Andre Smith has made strides this summer. Where does that leave Jared Norris? Or someone like undrafted hopeful Jordan Kunaszyk?
As for the outside linebackers, who are EDGE players in the 3-4 scheme, veterans Mario Addison and Bruce Irvin are at the top of the depth chart with first-round pick Brian Burns and Marquis Haynes behind them. It’ll be interesting to see if fourth-round pick Christian Miller can work his way into the rotation this fall.
The competition at this spot continues through the fourth and final preseason game. Corn Elder, Javien Elliott and Cole Luke have been battling it out. We still don’t know for sure who will be first up at small nickel when the Rams visit Bank of America Stadium. Big nickel will be manned by former third-round pick Rashaan Gaulden, and it’ll be interesting to see what kind of impact he makes in that role.
Is the quarterback job behind Cam Newton still up for grabs? It sure seems like Kyle Allen is going to be that guy. Rookie Will Grier openly admits he needs time to develop and the Panthers are willing to give him that time. Taylor Heinicke has been eager to compete throughout the summer, and he’ll likely get an extended opportunity to play against the Steelers.
Rivera acknowledged the situation with Graham Gano has gotten “uneasy.” Carolina’s kicker since 2012 has been dealing with a leg injury and he hasn’t kicked in the preseason. Rookie Joey Slye has gone 6-for-6 in his place. The preseason finale is another chance for the undrafted Virginia Tech product to make his mark.