- Rich Cimini, ESPN Staff Writer
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The story line is obvious: Can the Mark Sanchez-led offense, buoyed by the return of wideout Santonio Holmes, find a rhythm and the end zone? The Jets have yet to score a touchdown this preseason, covering 24 possessions in two games.
That's the big story Sunday night against the Carolina Panthers. Other things to watch:
1. RT Austin Howard makes his second preseason start, but this time he's The Guy. This is the chance of a lifetime for the journeyman lineman, who can lock up the starting job with a solid performance. Either way, I'm still looking for the Jets to acquire a backup-type tackle before the opener.
2. Remember Wayne Hunter? Of course you do. I have a feeling Howard's predecessor will have a semi-significant role in this game, playing as a sixth lineman/tight end in the jumbo package.
3. No surprise here: S Yeremiah Bell (knee) and DT Mike DeVito (calf) are inactive for the game. On Friday, Rex Ryan indicated he'd err on the side of caution if there was any concern about their injuries. Bell and his situation is more precautionary than DeVito, whose injury bears watching as they start early preparations for the regular season opener. Josh Bush and Quinton Coples, both rookies, will start for Bell and DeVito, respectively.
4. This is an interesting spot for Coples. He's had a productive preseason, but he hasn't done much against the starters. Facing the Panthers might stir emotions for him, because there was a lot of pre-draft speculation about the former North Carolina standout going to Carolina with the ninth overall pick. The Panthers took LB Luke Kuechly, and Coples slipped to the Jets at No. 16.
5. Perhaps the kicking battle will be decided in this game. It's a close competition between incumbent Nick Folk and challenger Josh Brown, with Folk holding a slight statistical advantage in practice performance.
6. A pregame analysis wouldn't be complete without a mention of backup QB Tim Tebow, who is slated to replace Sanchez after three quarters. Until then, Tebow probably will be used only on the punt team; there are no plans to use him in the Wildcat, according to Ryan. He's coming off a horrible passing performance; let's see if Tebow can get it together against the Panthers' backups.