- David Newton, ESPN Staff Writer
- 0 Shares
Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera said only a few starting positions were up for grabs before Thursday night's 10-0 victory at Pittsburgh in the preseason finale.
Here's how I see the top 22 as the Panthers begin focusing on the Sept. 7 opener at Tampa Bay:
LG Amini Silatolu -- Never challenged as he reclaimed the job he had before suffering a season-ending ACL tear in the fourth game last season.
C Ryan Kalil -- A four-time Pro Bowler. Nothing more needs to be said.
RG Chris Scott -- Rookie Trai Turner started the first two preseason games and still could be the starter, but a groin injury has sidelined him the last two games. Ideally, Turner is Carolina's guy. But the lack of practice this close to the opener has to be concerning.
FB Mike Tolbert -- He has a lot of nicknames making fun of his round physique. You can just call him solid.
TE Greg Olsen -- He missed Thursday's game to be with his son, recovering from his third open heart surgery after being born in 2012 with a congenital heart defect. But the team's leading receiver with 73 catches last season will be ready for Tampa.
WR Kelvin Benjamin -- The first-round draft pick out of Florida State, at 6-foot-4 and 240 pounds, already has earned the praise of receivers coach Ricky Proehl as a bona fide No. 1 wideout.
WR Jerricho Cotchery -- The Panthers brought him and Jason Avant in to replace the veteran leadership of Steve Smith, who was cut in March. Despite the lack of preseason production, the team is pleased.
QB Cam Newton -- Ankle surgery in March. Fractured ribs a week ago. No problem. The two-time Pro Bowl selection says he will be in the starting lineup against the Bucs.
LDE Charles Johnson -- A hamstring injury kept him out of three of four preseason games, the last more for precautionary reasons. His resume includes 54 sacks, third on the team's all-time list.
LDT Colin Cole -- Rivera calls him a "space eater.'' Cole prefers "Monster in the Middle,'' or something like that. Whatever, he's rock solid.
RDT Star Lotulelei -- Still surprised he didn't get more consideration for NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year last season. Needs a few more sacks than the three he had to garner more attention.
RDE Greg Hardy -- The 2013 Pro Bowl selection led the team in sacks last season with 15. Despite his legal issues, he's playing for a new contract in 2015, which is good for Carolina.
MLB Luke Kuechly -- If you haven't heard, he is the NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
WLB Thomas Davis -- He should have been in the Pro Bowl last season.
LCB -- Antoine Cason -- Resurrecting a career that began with him playing for Rivera at San Diego after a one-year vacation in Arizona.
SS Roman Harper -- Turf toe kept him out of most of the preseason, but he appears ready and insists he'll bring an attitude to the rebuilt secondary.