SPARTANBURG, S.C. – Head coach Ron Rivera expects his starters to play about a quarter in Friday night's preseason opener at the Buffalo Bills, but even after quarterback Cam Newton gives way to the backups, Rivera will be locked in on the Panthers' pass catchers.
"A lot of guys are going to get opportunities, especially at the wide receiver position," Rivera said. "We're paying attention to them."
The 53-man roster typically has room for five or six wide receivers, but Rivera didn't rule out the possibility that the Panthers could keep seven. It's way too early to get into an in-depth look at roster construction, so at this juncture that's more of a statement on how well all of the receivers have performed to date in camp.
"This is the deepest I've seen that group in a long time, and it's quality depth," Rivera said. "The first four or five guys are truly quality guys, and then when you look at the sixth, seventh, eighth guys, these are guys that flash and show that they deserve an opportunity.
"It's a good group. I'm excited about them."
That first group of "four of five guys" is comprised of Kelvin Benjamin – a 1,000-yard receiver as a rookie last season – veterans Ted Ginn, Jr., and Jerricho Cotchery, speedster Corey Brown and second-round rookie Devin Funchess.
That accounts for less than half of the receivers on the 90-man roster. Brenton Bersin was a contributor last season; Jarrett Boykin and Mike Brown are steady veterans in their first season with the Panthers; and Damiere Byrd, Avius Capers and Paul Browning are rookies who have all made their share of plays.
"We've got five or six or seven that are really after it right now, that are really battling," Rivera said. "We've got a group of guys that are just showing every day. They're flashing constantly."
Friday will provide an opportunity to flash under the bright lights of a live NFL game. Rivera said he'll be looking for consistency from his starters and will then focus on which backups are able to put their best foot forward.
"I'm looking for guys to make plays and take advantage of the opportunity," Rivera said. "Especially with the second and third groups, guys we put in position to make plays have to make plays."
Rivera said wide receiver Stephen Hill recently underwent successful knee surgery. Hill, considered a top contender for a roster spot, suffered a season-ending right knee injury in practice August 1 and is on injured reserve.