Rookie Turner has tough debut vs. McCoy

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Carolina Panthers will find out how good rookie right guard Trai Turner is in a hurry.

First up, Gerald McCoy.

The 6-foot-4, 301-pound McCoy arguably is the best defensive tackle in the NFL. He had 9.5 sacks last season and was selected to the Pro Bowl for the second straight year.

Turner turned 21 in June, doesn't have an NFL regular-season start and he missed the last two preseason games with a groin injury. While he is listed as the starter, the Panthers are preparing veteran Fernando Velasco to be ready just in case.

"We also know it’s going to be hot, and he hasn’t had a chance to truly condition like a lot of the other guys,'' Carolina coach Ron Rivera said of the heat and humidity expected in South Florida. "So if we do anything, he’ll have to be spelled on occasion. It’s going to tax him. It’s going to tax anybody. So we’ll just make sure he’s ready to roll.”

The Panthers did better than most against McCoy last season, holding him to one tackle in two games. McCoy told reporters in Tampa there were times when Carolina triple-teamed him, and that he plays to get triple-teamed.

That Tampa Bay has added more talent and depth around him in defensive end Michael Johnson and tackle Clinton McDonald has to help.

But the Turner-McCoy matchup definitely will be key for Carolina, particularly with quarterback Cam Newton nursing fractured ribs suffered in an Aug. 22 exhibition loss at New England.

The last thing Newton needs is pressure up the middle, forcing him to scramble outside. While the surgically repaired left ankle appears fully healed, the Panthers still don't want Newton running as much as he did last season.

He ran more in an Oct. 24 win at Tampa Bay than against any other opponent except Atlanta in the regular-season finale, collecting 50 yards on 11 carries -- most of which were scrambles.

With the ribs still expected to be sore, the Panthers don't want Newton taking any more hits than necessary.

Turner doesn't seem concerned about his challenge. He admits McCoy, the third pick of the 2010 draft, is a "great player.'' He's been studying him since last week. He's also confident in his abilities.

"I'm definitely confident in myself,'' said Turner, who surrendered only three sacks in two seasons at LSU. "I know I've got to go out there and just play football. At the end of the day that's what it comes down to.''

The Panthers will have a good idea of just how well Turner can play after Sunday.