- David Newton, ESPN Staff Writer
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SPARTANBURG, S.C. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Carolina Panthers training camp from Wofford College:
Carolina coach Ron Rivera hasn't said whether quarterback Cam Newton will play in Friday night's preseason opener against Buffalo. It doesn't make sense to risk re-injuring Newton's surgically repaired left ankle, particularly with an 80 percent chance of rain and a new offensive line. He has looked sharp in practice and one or two series in a preseason game won't make or break the season. The biggest loss if Newton doesn't play is for the fans. They have to pay regular-season prices and want to see the team's star player perform, even if it's for a handful of plays.
Rookie wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin dropped a pass in team drills. It was the first time that's happened since training camp began. Maybe he felt lost because Newton spent the second half of practice in the locker room getting treatment on his ankle. But the pass from third-string quarterback Joe Webb hit him right in the numbers. He also dropped two passes during one-on-one receiving drills, something else seldom seen. First preseason-game jitters? Rivera talked to his rookies and undrafted players after practice and told them they looked tight. He reminded them to stay focused on what they've been doing and they'll be all right.
Left guard Amini Silatolu and center Ryan Kalil sat out of practice, mainly to rest. Both will start against the Bills. Defensive end Charles Johnson (hamstring) and free safety Roman Harper (toe) will not play. Frank Alexander, who has been suspended for the first four regular-season games for violating the league's substance abuse policy, will start for Johnson. He's had a good camp and deserves the start. Robert Lester likely will start for Harper.
The left tackle position appears to be Byron Bell's to lose. He'll start against the Bills, a team that sacked Newton sitimes during Week 2 a year ago. End Mario Williams had 4.5 sacks, most against Bell on the right side. Bell took a lot of heat for his performance, much of it unjustly according to Rivera. If Bell can show the consistency the coaches are looking for this week and the next week against Kansas City, he'll beat out Nate Chandler for the right to protect Newton's blind side.
There was an interesting spectator at practice -- Laura Iwanicki, who testified on behalf of defensive end Greg Hardy in his July 15 trial in which a judge ruled him guilty of assaulting and threatening ex-girlfriend Nicole Holder. Hardy appealed the guilty verdict. A jury trial has been scheduled for Nov. 17, although it likely won't be held until 2015.
The Panthers host the Bills in their preseason opener at 7:30 p.m. in Charlotte. The Bills are 0-1 after a 17-13 loss to the New York Giants in Sunday's Hall of Fame game in Canton, Ohio.