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Preseason finale a homecoming for Dorian Johnson


CHARLOTTE - Homecomings are typically reserved for the likes of high school and college athletes.

For offensive lineman Dorian Johnson, however, Thursday's preseason road game against Pittsburgh will carry a similar weight.

Johnson grew up in Belle Vernon, Pa., a small borough just 55 minutes outside of Pittsburgh, and attended the University of Pittsburgh, whose football team shares Heinz Field with the Steelers.

"It's been awhile," he said with a smile while sharing the fact that the preseason finale will be the first time his family has seen him play since college.

As a Pitt Panther, Johnson started all four years and earned first team All-American and first team All-ACC honors in 2016. But, in order to ensure a spot as a Carolina Panther, Johnson still has a little more work to do.

With the offensive line's injuries dominating headlines throughout training camp and preseason, Johnson, a true guard, has been tasked with also playing at tackle in an effort to expand his game. The challenge initially caught him off-guard, but he has made strides as time progressed.

"It was a little weird. I haven't played tackle since I was 18," Johnson said. "It's just a little different working with space out there...but I'm still working on my sets a little bit, getting off the ball.

"I feel a lot more comfortable out there (now)."

Drafted by the Cardinals in the fourth round of the 2017 NFL Draft, Johnson has spent time with Arizona and Houston but cites Carolina as a team that has helped him. He credits running game coordinator John Matsko, as well vets such as fellow guard Trai Turner, with helping him grow.

"I feel like overall I've become a better player since I've been here," he said.

Head coach Ron Rivera would agree, but will it be enough to earn a spot on the 53-man roster?

Johnson has one more chance to make his case in his hometown.

"It's one of those things where the more opportunities he gets, the better he can become," Rivera said earlier this preseason. "He's very athletic. He's got good feet. He's a little bit out of position right now (playing tackle). Hopefully it's one of those things where you continue reps, he might improve."