- David Newton, ESPN Staff Writer
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Examining the Carolina Panthers' roster:
Joe Webb was signed to simulate the things Cam Newton did while the franchise quarterback recovered from offseason ankle surgery. Newton has been turned loose to run the read option in practice and his ankle looked strong as he scrambled three times in Sunday night's win against Kansas City, which makes Webb expendable.
RUNNING BACKS (4)
The top three are a given and Barner is a candidate to return kicks, in addition to his running back duties. The concern with Barner is blocking, at which he's struggled. Darrin Reaves was looking good before he suffered a setback with a minor knee injury. He might have pushed Barner for a job. Undrafted rookie Fozzy Whittaker may be making a late push.
Brenton Bersi may have nailed down a spot with his two clutch catches, one for a touchdown, against the Chiefs. The battle for the final spot is tightening with undrafted rookies Philly Brown and Marcus Lucas starting to make plays. The Panthers love the speed of Tiquan Underwood, but he continues to show a tendency to drop passes. I previously had Kealoha Pilares in the top six because he was the leading kickoff retuner, but the desire to get a closer look at Brown moved him temporarily into that spot.
TIGHT ENDS (5)
Normally, I would say four players here, but the Panthers plan to run a lot of two-tight-end sets and Brockel also doubles as a fullback. Williams was a wild card early, but has shown he deserves a spot. McNeil sprained his right knee against Buffalo and hasn't practiced since, so that could change the picture here. He was brought in primarily as a blocker. He'd be the bubble guy now.
OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (9)
The left tackle job is Bell's. The rest of the front line also appears set, barring injury. The key here is flexibility. Williams and Chandler can play tackle or guard. Turner can play guard and backup center. Folkerts can play center and guard. A player to keep an eye on is undrafted rookie David Foucault, who has been working with the second team at left tackle. He could slip into the mix if the Panthers don't keep McNeil at tight end.
DEFENSIVE LINE (9)
DE Frank Alexander should be on here. He has had a great preseason, earning coach Ron Rivera's vote as the MVP of camp in Spartanburg, South Carolina. But he will be suspended for the first four games for violating the league's substance abuse policy. He will return to the 53-man roster in October.
Again, flexibility is key. Blackburn, who missed Sunday's game with a back injury, can step in and replace Kuechly if he ever had to come off the field. Many of these players will be on special teams. D.J. Smith could figure into the mix.
Safety-turned-cornerback Godfrey appears the choice at nickel. The Panthers restructured his contract to keep him on the roster and really love his leadership. If he improves, there will be some tough cuts. Norman is showing his usual preseason flare. Josh Thomas could be odd man out.
The turf toe that has kept Harper out of the first two preseason games and most of practice will become a concern if he doesn't return soon. The good thing about having Godfrey at cornerback is he could move back to safety in case of an emergency. It doesn't appear that fourth-round pick Tre Boston, who has been hampered by injuries, will figure into the mix. But Anderson Russell, who started for Harper against Kansas City, may be a factor.
These positions are set, barring an injury.