CHARLOTTE — Punting competitions are rarely as close as the one in Carolina right now.
Because he's a three-time Pro Bowler, Andy Lee seemed like a heavy favorite to regain his job after recovering from a hamstring injury that limited him to nine games in 2016. But Michael Palardy has seemingly matched Lee kick-for-kick from the spring through the preseason.
It's often silly to read much into punting stats, but for what it's worth, here's a look at some preseason results:
- Palardy - six punts, 44.7 net average, four punts placed inside the 20-yard line
- Lee - five punts, 43.8 net average, two punts places inside the 20
Over the past month, head coach Ron Rivera has said multiple times that the race for punting job was closer than the kicking competition between incumbent Graham Gano and seventh-round pick Harrison Butker. But Sunday, Rivera made it sound like both spots are still up for grabs going into the preseason finale with Pittsburgh.
"(This is) a very big week," Rivera said. "As far as we're concerned, these guys are even. They've done a great job in camp, they've been very competitive.
"I just think when you look at your two kicking positions, we've got four really good specialists."
Figuring out the fullbacks
When the Panthers chop the roster from 90 to 53 on Friday and Saturday, there's no guarantee a spot will be saved for a fullback. But there's a pretty good chance either Darrel Young or Alex Armah will stick around.
"Fullback has always been part of this offense and what we do," Rivera said. "We have to go through it because we have two really good candidates. We like them both. They've done a great job for us."
Judging by experience (90 NFL games vs. rookie) and preseason snap counts on offense (32 vs. 16), Young appears to have the edge.
"He gives you a little bit of what Mike Tolbert gave you," Rivera said, "and that's a guy that can not just play the fullback position but play the H position, which is important, especially when you get into your nickel packages because that guy will end up doing a lot of blocking."
But while Armah's a raw talent who could gain more seasoning on the practice squad, he's not out of it yet.
"We have to go through it because we have two really good candidates. We like them both," Rivera said. "They've done a great job for us."
—Quarterback Cam Newton, wide receiver Curtis Samuel and center Ryan Kalil all practiced Sunday, showing no ill effects from their preseason debuts in Jacksonville.
—Quarterback Joe Webb, who was held out against the Jaguars with soreness in his neck, returned to practice. So did receiver Keyarris Garrett, guard Chris Scott and linebacker Jared Norris, who all missed time recently with undisclosed injuries.
—Defensive tackle Vernon Butler was on the practice field Sunday for the first time since he sprained his left knee against the Texans. Butler, who had a brace on his knee, worked with trainers on the side.
—Other guys who didn't practice: quarterback Derek Anderson (personal); wideouts Fred Ross (ankle) and Brenton Bersin (shoulder); tight end Scott Simonson (hamstring); offensive tackle Dan France (head); center Gino Gradkowski (undisclosed); guard David Yankey (undisclosed); defensive end Daeshon Hall (knee); defensive tackles Kyle Love (ankle) and Toby Johnson (quad); cornerbacks Teddy Williams (undisclosed) and Corn Elder (knee); safety L.J. McCray (undisclosed).
View photos from Carolina's fourth week of preseason practice.