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What to watch: Panthers at Dolphins

Fans had to like what they saw in the Panthers' preseason opener Saturday.

In the second preseason game, head coach Ron Rivera would like to see more of the same – at least when it comes to the good stuff.

"Consistency – that's the biggest thing," said Rivera, whose Panthers will visit the Miami Dolphins on Friday night at 7:30. "Last week we'd go a series where we'd have a bad thing happen, and then we'd have a good thing happen, then a bad thing.

"What I want to see is a series of good things without anything bad happening. If we can start to be a little more consistent, that will mean we're taking another step forward."

The Panthers on the whole showed marked improvement from a year ago on offense and special teams in a 20-10 victory over the New York Giants, and their defense was dominant at times.

Yet there was room for improvement, and the game against the Dolphins will give Carolina another chance to get better.

In what areas do the Panthers need to pick it up and in what areas do they need to simply keep it up? Here's a look.

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THE TURNOVER TALE: Running back Mike Goodson missed practice Wednesday with an Achilles injury, but he didn't exactly stand idly by.

After fumbling twice against the Giants, Goodson was charged with carrying a football around with him throughout practice and protecting it from surprise attacks by personnel passing by.

"We had two (turnovers against the Giants), but we had a third one that was on the ground," Rivera said. "We just can't have that."

It's an inescapable statistical truth on every level of football: No matter what else happens on the field, the team that turns the ball over the least is much more likely to win the game.

The Panthers got away with a 2-0 turnover deficit against the Giants, but they certainly don't want a repeat against the Dolphins as the regular season fast approaches. They also want to force some turnovers, a point of emphasis in defensive coordinator Sean McDermott's system.


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QB QUESTIONS: Speaking of turnovers, the quarterback position is especially susceptible to them, and it hurt against the Giants, who got the majority of their points on an interception return for a touchdown.

Jimmy Clausen (the victim of the pick), Cam Newton and Derek Anderson mostly played well in the opener. Clausen started the first game, and now it's Newton's turn to start.

Rivera said the playing time would be virtually the same as last week, with Newton playing the first quarter with the other starters, then Clausen playing the second quarter with the starters and the third quarter with reserves before Anderson takes over for the fourth.

Newton and Clausen are battling for the starting spot for the regular season, so every snap counts. For Newton, accuracy should be a focus for this game. For Clausen, decision-making under pressure will continue to be a crucial area.


ANOTHER CHANCE TO CATCH ON: Last week, receivers got a chance to impress with top threat Steve Smith sidelined.

This week, they'll get to show what they can do alongside Smith.

Smith is expected to be back in action after a finger injury sidelined him. The Panthers are still trying to figure out what receiver will start the regular season opposite Smith, so how they perform with Smith could be key.

"We've got some guys that are stepping up and making things happen," Rivera said. "I was real excited to see Brandon LaFell make some plays. Legedu Naanee is just so consistent. Then other guys that could help in that situation - Armanti (Edwards) obviously is one of them, as is (Kealoha) Pilares with his big-play ability."


SOMETHING SPECIAL: While some areas need to improve from the first week, the status quo would be just fine for others. Such is the case on special teams, where the Panthers did virtually everything right.

From kicker Olindo Mare's debut to the return and coverage games, the Panthers got the job done, though special teams coach Brian Murphy isn't quite ready to celebrate.

"We're right at the beginning," Murphy said. "We just need to continue to grow and build. I like the guys. They work hard."


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WELCOME BACK: For linebacker Thomas Davis, any time on the field qualifies as an improvement.

If Davis plays against Miami as expected, it will mark his first game action in nearly 21 months following a pair of knee surgeries.

"It's been tough for me, but this Friday is going to feel…man…words can't even describe it," Davis said.

Davis won't be joined at linebacker by Jon Beason, still recovering from tendinitis in his Achilles, but defensive end Charles Johnson and cornerback Captain Munnerlyn are expected to play after sitting out the opener. Corner Chris Gamble may sit out again with a hamstring injury.

Offensive linemen Jeff Otah and Geoff Schwartz won't play, while in the backfield, Tony Fiameetta is out and Goodson and Jonathan Stewart are questionable.

NOTE: Friday's game, like all of Carolina's preseason games, will be broadcast on Panthers TV. The one exception, for this week only, will be in the Greenville, N.C., market, where the game will be shown on WITN.

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