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What to Watch: Panthers at Jaguars



ALL EYES ON PASSING GAME: After an up and down preseason that included a season-ending injury to top wideout Kelvin Benjamin, the Panthers' passing attack has been under heavy scrutiny.

How the wide receiver group responds in the season opener is a big question waiting to be answered. But quarterback Cam Newton has full confidence in his pass-catchers.

"We're ready for it. We're prepared for it," Newton said. "We've got to expect that guys will not let anything stop us from what we want to achieve."

The receivers may be a question mark, but there's no doubting tight end Greg Olsen's ability to make plays for Newton. Expect the Pro Bowl tight end to be involved early and often.

GROUND AND POUND: With some uncertainty surrounding the aerial attack, Carolina will no doubt look to test the Jaguars' run defense with lead back Jonathan Stewart.

Stewart, who is entering the season as the team's No. 1 running back for the first time in his career, has a lot of confidence in the offensive line in front of him as he looks to pick up where he left off in 2014.

"To see those guys gel the way they have, it's been nice, especially with the addition of (left tackle) Michael Oher," Stewart said.

FOCUS ON FRONT FOUR: Defensive tackle Star Lotulelei is out with a foot injury, and defensive end Charles Johnson, who missed the entire preseason with calf and trapezius injuries, is bracing for his first game action in months.

Kyle Love will start alongside Kawann Short in place of Lotulelei, and the Panthers hope Johnson, the veteran leader of the defensive line, can jump right in to help collapse the pocket.

SHAQ'S FIRST START: How will the Panthers utilize first-round pick Shaq Thompson? We're all waiting to find out.

The first-round pick is slated to start in his regular season debut, and the coaching staff has been eager to involve him in pressure packages. His explosiveness could add a jolt to Carolina's pass rush.

BOTTLING BORTLES: The Panthers expect to see a much improved Blake Bortles as the former first-round pick enters his second season directing the Jaguars offense.

"The quarterback is making really good decisions," linebacker Thomas Davis said. "He didn't have an interception in the preseason. Getting after him is going to be key for us."

Added linebacker Luke Kuechly: "He's big and athletic – moves really well and has a strong arm. He's very confident right now, which is something we have to be ready for."

Making matters more challenging is the fact that Jacksonville has a new offensive coordinator in Greg Olson. Interestingly enough, this is the fourth time in five years Carolina is opening the season against a team's new play caller.

"The unknowns keep me up at night," defensive coordinator Sean McDermott said. "I've got a lot of respect for Coach Olson and what he does on the offensive side for Jacksonville. The offense probably has the edge going into the first game of the season just because you're not sure what they're working with."

View photos of players traveling to Jacksonville for the first game of the regular season.

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