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What to watch: Panthers at Steelers


When the Panthers meet the Steelers Thursday night for their preseason finale, it'll be a chance for players fighting for the final roster spots to get extensive playing time and end the exhibition schedule on a high note.

And starters or not, preseason or not, the Steelers embody a particular brand of football.

"You're talking about not just who they are as Steelers players," Rivera said, "but the scheme."

Rivera, a former linebacker and defensive coordinator, has plenty of respect for Pittsburgh's defensive prowess under coordinator Dick LeBeau.  

"LaBeau is one of the all-time great coordinators in this league," Rivera said. "This will be a real good challenge for our young guys, because they will be going against one of the best."

As for Carolina's defense, the players know what to expect from a Pittsburgh offense, including rookie linebacker Luke Kuechly.

"I'm from Cincinnati so I used to watch a lot of Steelers (games), twice a year, every year," Kuechly said. "They're big guys, they bruise, they run downhill and they're physical. That's a Pittsburgh team and we have to do our part to be just as physical and make some plays."

Here's a look at what to keep an eye on during the Panthers' final dress rehearsal before the start of the regular season.

SPOTS UP FOR GRABS: On Tuesday, Rivera said there are "probably a dozen (roster) spots" that he and the coaching staff are still assessing. By 9 p.m. Friday, NFL rosters must be trimmed from 75 to 53.

While players will be judged on their complete body of work throughout the offseason and preseason, Thursday night's game provides a final chance to impress before decisions are made.Expect players on the bubble to leave everything they have on the field.

WIDEOUTS AT FOREFRONT: The competition to make the roster at the wide receiver position has been a topic of discussion since training camp began, and the conclusion is near.

With Steve Smith, Brandon LaFell, and Davis Gettis (PUP) locked into spots, and Louis Murphy, Joe Adams and Kealoha Pilares likely assured one, that leaves Armanti Edwards, Seyi Ajirotutu, Jared Green and Lamont Bryant. Those four wideouts are battling for one, maybe two, spots.

DECIDING ON DBs: Similar competition is rounding out in the defensive backfield. Cornerbacks Chris Gamble, Captain Munnerlyn and Josh Norman along with safeties Charles Godfrey, Haruki Nakamura and Sherrod Martin appear locked in.

The remaining corners – Josh Thomas, R.J. Stanford and Darius Butler – are battling for one or two spots.

Similarly at safety, Reggie Smith, Jordan Pugh, Jonathan Nelson and D.J. Campbell are battling for one or two spots.

FRESH LEGS: Thursday will be kicker Justin Medlock and punter Brad Nortman's first opportunity to perform since winning their respective jobs.

The coaching staff will be looking for steady, productive outings from their specialists with the regular season fast-approaching. It'll be interesting to watch Medlock and Nortman execute without competition observing the action from the sideline.

CONFIDENCE AWAY FROM HOME: The Panthers first 2012 road trip was a success, defeating the Jets 17-12 in New York for their first preseason road win since 2007.

"It's a confidence builder," quarterback Cam Newton said.

Playing well away from home is critical for any team with playoff aspirations and the Panthers want to continue developing a winning mindset when they enter hostile environments.

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