CHARLOTTE – On the surface, the NFL's decision to eliminate the need to reduce rosters from 90 to 75 seemed to take a little pressure off.
Head coach Ron Rivera believes that it's actually added pressure – and he believes that's a good thing.
"When your numbers are less, guys either feel like there's only one spot or they feel like they're the guy," Rivera said. "But now, everybody feels the pressure."
In years past, today marked the day when teams had to trim their roster by 15, an intermittent stop along the way to 53-man roster utilized during the regular season. But this year, the Panthers and Steelers will go into their annual preseason finale Thursday night at 90 players and then must cut to 53 by Saturday at 4 p.m.
"I think it's going to make for a better football game because these guys that are going to get an opportunity to play later in the game are guys that are competing," Rivera said. "I've also noticed in practice that there are guys that are much more attentive because they're all competing for the same thing.
"I really like what we've gotten out of this week. This has really been one of our better last weeks of the preseason."
Rivera didn't say whether any starters would play against the Steelers (7:30 p.m. Panthers TV). Few typically do, though there's an outside chance quarterback Cam Newton gets a few snaps given that his lone series since offseason shoulder surgery was the opening one last week.
Regardless if Newton plays a little or doesn't play at all, he'll be entering Week 1 with limited game reps under his belt, and that's the reality of the situation for the Panthers.
"You really won't know until the opener," Rivera said when asked about Newton's readiness. "That's just the way it is."
This much is known: Players competing for the final spots on the 53-man roster and those trying to position themselves for the 10-man practice squad will get their chance against the Steelers.
Rivera said spots are still up for grabs - a testament to the quality of the 90-man roster that will be no more come Saturday.
"I know we're going to end up cutting a couple of really good football players that deserve an opportunity somewhere," Rivera said. "This is about as much pressure as you get as far as opportunities. We're going to find out who is going to make the plays and be playmakers in that situation."
View photos from Carolina's fourth week of preseason practice.