NFL Nation: Carolina Panthers

Most significant move: This has to be the release of guard Chris Scott. He started eight games last season and started the last two preseason games at right guard with rookie Trai Turner nursing a groin injury. This sends a message that Turner is ready to start the opener at Tampa Bay. Conditioning has been an issue for Scott, but coach Ron Rivera told me on Wednesday that Scott had worked himself into a good position when I asked if he could win a starting job. The release shows how much the Panthers like guard Andrew Norwell and the confidence they have in Fernando Velasco to play center and guard.

Not King for this day: Wide receiver Tavarres King and Marvin McNutt were mentioned by general manager Dave Gettleman as young players they'd like to get a good look at when they released Steve Smith. McNutt didn't make the first cut and now King, who at one point appeared to be fourth or fifth on the depth chart, is gone.

No pick for Barner: The Philadelphia Eagles waived injured running back Kenjon Barner, meaning Carolina won't get the conditional seventh-round pick they negotiated in the trade. Barner had to make the team's 46-man active list for at least the first four games for the Panthers to get the pick.

Alexander on reserve/suspended: DE Frank Alexander, suspended for the first four games for violating the league's substance abuse policy, was placed on the reserve/suspended list. He is expected to return to the 53-man roster (depth charts will be updated shortly) after the Week 4 game at Baltimore.

What's next: Look for Gettleman to keep a close eye on the waiver wire for a wide receiver/return specialist. As much as Rivera says he likes undrafted rookie wideout Philly Brown returning punts, the drops have to make him nervous. There are quite a few interesting players available, including Jets 2012 second-round pick Stephen Hill.

Panthers moves: Cut -- LB Denicos Allen, CB Carrington Byndom, G Derek Dennis, CB James Dockery, LB Adarius Glanton, WR Tavarres King, S Robert Lester, WR Marcus Lucas, OT Andrew McDonald, S Tom Nelson, DT Drake Nevis, RB Darrin Reaves, DT Micanor Regis, LB D.J. Smith, CB Josh Thomas, DT Casey Walker, FB Michael Zordich, OG Chris Scott. Waived/injured -- T Kevin Hughes. Waived/injured settlement -- TE Mike McNeil, S Anderson Russell. Reserve/suspended -- DE Frank Alexander.
Royster
Scott
The reported release of right guard Chris Scott means the Carolina Panthers are confident the groin injury that sidelined rookie Trai Turner in the past two preseason games won't be an issue for the Sept. 7 opener at Tampa Bay.

Scott appeared to have worked himself into position to challenge Turner for the start, but according to Pro Football Talk, he was released on Saturday as the Panthers trimmed their roster to 53.

When asked on Wednesday about the possibility of Scott starting versus the Buccaneers, coach Ron Rivera said, "Chris worked himself into a good position, and we'll see how it goes."

Scott started eight games last season before a knee injury became an issue.

A fifth-round pick by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2010, the 6-foot-4, 315-pound Scott had issues with conditioning that sidelined him for much of offseason workouts. He failed conditioning tests at Buffalo in 2013, making him available for the Panthers to sign.

The release of Scott also shows Carolina's confidence in Fernando Velasco's ability to play center and guard. Velasco signed with the Panthers in July after suffering a season-ending Achilles injury in Week 14 last season.

Carolina Panthers' projected roster

August, 29, 2014
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Examining the Carolina Panthers' roster:

QUARTERBACKS (3)
Webb looked expendable until Newton suffered a fractured rib in the third preseason game against New England. Coach Ron Rivera was fairly adamant the Panthers will keep three quarterbacks until it is clear Newton is healthy -- and maybe longer.

RUNNING BACKS (4)

Whittaker emerged as the fourth back after the trade of Kenjon Barner to Philadelphia. Darrin Reaves still could figure into the mix, but with three quarterbacks, that doesn't appear likely now.

RECEIVERS (6)

This became clearer when Tiquan Underwood, Kealoha Pilares and Toney Clemons were released. It still wouldn't surprise if the Panthers picked up a receiver/kick returner off waivers after final cuts.

TIGHT ENDS (4)
Mike McNeill was signed to a two-year deal early in free agency, but with the emergence of Williams and a nagging knee injury, he becomes expendable. It still wouldn't surprise if the Panthers kept five tight ends at what has become the deepest position outside of the defensive front. That likely would mean eight linemen instead of nine.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (9)

The key here is flexibility, which might mean eight instead of nine if the Panthers choose to keep five tight ends. Williams and Chandler can play tackle or guard. Turner can play guard and backup center. Folkerts and Velasco can play center and guard. Undrafted rookie tackle David Foucault appears to be the odd man out.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (9)

As I continue to say, don't forget defensive end Frank Alexander. He has had a great preseason, earning 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.

LINEBACKERS (6)

Again, flexibility is key. Blackburn, who missed the past two preseason games with a back injury, can step in and replace Kuechly if he ever had to come off the field. He's more dependable than Klein there. Many of these players will be on special teams. D.J. Smith could figure into the mix.

CORNERBACKS (5)

The starters appear set in Cason and White. Benwikere and Godfrey will share the nickel spot. Norman is having another good preseason. This makes Josh Thomas the odd man out.

SAFETIES (4)

Flip a coin between Russell and Robert Lester for the final spot. As insurance, the Panthers are working safety-turned-cornerback Godfrey back at safety some. Godfrey's versatility to do both allows the Panthers to go with one less defensive back and keep three quarterbacks. The plan for fourth-round pick Tre Boston likely will be injured reserve or waived injured and then re-signed and placed on the practice squad.

SPECIALISTS (3)

These positions are set, barring an injury.

Observation Deck: Carolina Panthers

August, 28, 2014
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Rookie wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin is a go-to receiver regardless of who's throwing to him. Little-known running back Fozzy Whittaker deserves a roster spot. Backup quarterbacks that have barely slept in 24 hours while becoming a first-time father probably should be given the night off even if the starter is hampered by fractured ribs. Kudos to quarterback Derek Anderson for scrambling to the Steel City hours after his wife gave birth to a daughter, Amelia.

Oh, and defense wins games even when your best players are spectators.

These are a few of the things learned Thursday night in the Carolina Panthers' 10-0 victory at Pittsburgh.

Here are some other thoughts on the Panthers’ (2-2) final preseason game:
  • Nice tune-up for Benjamin: With every play it becomes more apparent that teams choosing to single-cover Benjamin on the outside are going to pay on inside slants. At 6-foot-4 and 240 pounds, he is almost unstoppable. Benjamin finished with four catches for 56 yards in just over a quarter, a sample of the kind of production expected -- and needed -- out of him as Carolina replaces its top four receivers.
  • The Fozz: Whittaker became a workhorse with starters DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart given the night off. He finished the game with 91 yards on 23 carries and ended the preseason as Carolina's leading rusher.
  • Anderson survives: The last thing Carolina wanted to see with starting quarterback Cam Newton (rib) sidelined was Anderson getting hurt, but he left in the second quarter holding his right hand. X-rays were negative. As much as the Panthers like third-stringer Joe Webb, they don't want to go into the opener with him as the backup.
  • Riverboat lives: Coach Ron Rivera set the tone for last season's turnaround with a couple of fourth-down gambles against Minnesota in the fifth game. He showed faith in his rebuilt offensive line in the first series of this one, with fullback Mike Tolbert getting the first down. It wasn't pretty, but this unit needs that kind of confidence.
  • Riverboat in reverse: With NFL defensive player of the year Luke Kuechly and fellow linebacker Thomas Davis given the night off, and with ends Greg Hardy (shoulder) and Charles Johnson (hamstring) sitting out for precautionary reasons, Carolina still managed to stuff Pittsburgh on a first-quarter, fourth-and-1 attempt en route to a shutout. It's that depth that gives Carolina one of the best front sevens in the NFL.
  • Philly in Pittsburgh: The good news is Carolina appears to have settled on Philly Brown, an undrafted rookie wide receiver out of Ohio State, as its kick returner. The bad news is he also dropped a punt -- again. He also caught a nice deep pass -- and fell down before he could score. He's a less refined version of Ted Ginn Jr.
  • What's next? Newton, who already says he'll start in the Sept. 7 opener at Tampa Bay, will be re-evaluated on Saturday during a brief walk-thru. If he's improved the last two days the way he did the first four he should be ready to practice with little to no limitations Monday.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- It's a good thing Carolina Panthers quarterback Derek Anderson won't play much past the first quarter in tonight's exhibition finale at Pittsburgh.

He needs some rest -- literally.

Anderson caught a commercial flight to Pittsburgh mid-morning on Thursday after becoming a first-time father late Wednesday afternoon to Amelia Anderson, 7.6 pounds and 20.5 inches long.

He is scheduled to start for Cam Newton, who made the trip but will not play because of fractured ribs suffered in Friday night's 30-7 loss at New England.

Anderson needed less than 24 hours to learn babies interrupt the sleep pattern of parents. He tweeted this early Thursday morning:

He later tweeted this:

Anderson later admitted to being a bit cranky when tweeting this:

.

Carolina starters aren't expected to play more than a quarter, so perhaps the Panthers can set a cot up for Anderson on the sideline while Joe Webb finishes the game.

W2W4: Carolina Panthers

August, 28, 2014
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The Carolina Panthers (1-2) face the Pittsburgh Steelers (1-2) at 7:30 p.m. at Heinz Field.

Here are three things to watch for:

1. Consistency: The Panthers have been consistent on offense or defense through the first three preseason games. They've started slowly on both sides. They've been unable to sustain a running game, gaining only 55 yards on 16 carries from DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. Not what you want when you're a ball-control team. They've struggled at times to stop the run. Not what you'd expect from the league's second-best defense in 2013. They've allowed 10 sacks and collected only five. Not what you expect from the team that led the league in sacks last season with 60. Wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery, signed as a free agent from Pittsburgh, has one catch for 8 yards. Not what you want when you're replacing the veteran leadership of Steve Smith. It might be asking too much for a significant change with the starters likely not playing more than a quarter, and with quarterback Cam Newton being held out with a fractured rib. But a little bit of consistency would be a good place to end the preseason.

2. Communication: Roman Harper is getting his first start at strong safety after missing the first three preseason games with turf toe. He was signed as a free agent from New Orleans to be a leader in this rebuilt secondary and provide an attitude this group has been lacking. There have been breakdowns in communication during the first three games, resulting in big plays for the opposition that have contributed to the slow starts. With starting defensive ends Greg Hardy (shoulder) and Charles Johnson (hamstring) out, the secondary needs to set the tone for a change.

3. Blocking: The offensive line has allowed too many sacks and opened up too few holes. Injuries to the right side of the line have played a small role. Rookie right guard Trai Turner (groin) is expected to be out for the second straight game, but right tackle Nate Chandler (knee) is back. Chandler lost the left tackle battle to Byron Bell, who still has issues with the bull rush. If he doesn't pick up the pace he may lose the right tackle job to Garry Williams. The Panthers believe in winning from the inside out. The defensive front is solid. The offensive front needs to start setting the tone on the other side before it faces a tough Tampa Bay defense in the Sept. 7 opener. As I've said throughout the offseason, the success of the rebuilt line is the key to the success of this team.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera is confident quarterback Cam Newton will start in the Sept. 7 opener at Tampa Bay.

Newton suffered a hairline fracture in his rib during Friday night's 30-7 preseason loss at New England. He will not play in Thursday night's exhibition finale at Pittsburgh.

Newton
Newton
But judging by the way Newton moved around on Tuesday, Rivera was encouraged.

"I saw him throw a couple of balls, I saw him catch a couple of balls, I saw him bend over and pick up [a couple of balls], so I imagine it is lessening," Rivera said of Newton's pain.

"This is exactly what the doctor told us. It's just a matter of time. Get the stiffness out, the soreness out, and he'll be all right."

Among the quarterbacks who have played with fractured ribs are Dallas' Tony Romo, New England's Tom Brady and Michael Vick of the New York Jets.

While Newton has been held out of practice this week, he has been on the field going through the mental reps with players and coaches.

Asked if he had no doubt Newton would be ready for the Buccaneers, Rivera said, "I'm pretty confident. The true evaluation will come in about a week, so we'll probably be looking at this Saturday for where he is and how he is."
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Baby watch is almost over.

Barring an unexpected delay, the Carolina Panthers will have two quarterbacks available for Thursday night's preseason finale at Pittsburgh.

Anderson
Backup Derek Anderson said before Tuesday's practice that his wife, if she doesn't give birth naturally before, is scheduled to be induced later in the day. If all goes well, Anderson will be in Pittsburgh in time to start for the injured Cam Newton, who is out with a hairline fracture to a rib.

"Tonight's the magic night," Anderson said.

With fourth-stringer Matt Blanchard placed on injured reserve after suffering a concussion in Friday night's loss at New England, the Panthers were down to two healthy quarterbacks in Anderson and Joe Webb.

Webb
Until Anderson knew for sure his wife would be induced, the Panthers were prepping a couple of non-quarterbacks for an emergency situation in case Anderson didn't make the trip and Webb was injured.

Meanwhile, Newton continues to work with trainer Ryan Vermillion as part of his rehab from the rib injury that occurred in the second quarter against New England.

While he still looks stiff at times, Newton is beginning to make more moves with his upper body without signs of pain. At one point while observing a quarterback drill, he reached up slightly behind his body to effortlessly snag a throw with his right hand.

There is no indication Newton won't start in the Sept. 7 opener at Tampa Bay. While he isn't practicing, he was a part of preparing for the Bucs on Sunday and Monday.

"He's with the coordinator, he's with the quarterback coach and they're talking about what we're looking at and why we're looking at it," coach Ron Rivera said on Monday. "So Cam's getting a feel for Tampa Bay right now."
Most significant move: Carolina thought so much of wide receiver Tiquan Underwood in free agency that it gave him a two-year deal that included a $300,000 signing bonus. The hope was he would replace Ted Ginn Jr. as the speed receiver and possibly double as a return specialist. It never happened. Underwood continued to show the inconsistencies as a receiver that have plagued him throughout his career. For every good catch he made in practice, he had at least one drop, and he was cut for the ninth time in his career.

Wild card: Wide receiver Marvin McNutt was mentioned as a young player the Panthers wanted to get a good look at when they released Steve Smith in March. He never was a factor in being among the top six. Kealoha Pilares was listed as the No. 1 kickoff returner halfway through training camp in Spartanburg, but he never did anything as a receiver to justify wasting a spot on the roster.

What's next: You'd think the Panthers would scour the waiver wires looking for a return specialist who also can play wide receiver. Not so quick. Coach Ron Rivera says he likes undrafted rookie Philly Brown as a returner and sees potential in the former Ohio State star as a receiver. Brown has the speed the Panthers were looking for in Underwood, and he'll cost a lot less. That being said, I still wouldn't be surprised to see the Panthers take a shot at somebody when final cuts are made.

Panthers moves: Released -- WR Tiquan Underwood, WR Toney Clemons, P Jordan Gay, DT Linden Gaydosh, DE Alex Hall, T Oscar Johnson, WR Marvin McNutt, LB Anthony Morales, WR Kealoha Pilares, DE Craig Roh. PUP -- WR De'Andre Presley. IR -- QB Matt Blanchard, TE D.C. Jefferson, C Kevin Matthews.

 
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Carolina Panthers finally will get a look at their restructured secondary that was a big question mark entering the preseason in Thursday night's preseason finale at Pittsburgh.

Strong safety Roman Harper returned to practice this week for the first time since suffering turf toe after stepping on the foot of tight end Greg Olsen during an Aug. 1 practice in Spartanburg, South Carolina.

The two-time Pro Bowler with New Orleans was signed to a two-year, $4.5 million deal to bring stability to a secondary that lost three of four starters -- two in free agency.

[+] EnlargeRoman Harper
Jeremy Brevard/USA TODAY SportsStrong safety Roman Harper is eager to suit up for the Panthers following his preseason absence dealing with a turf toe injury.
"I definitely think I can help with a sense of attitude, with a sense of leadership," Harper said. "At times we can be better at open-field tackling, doing some different concepts and just kind of understanding our fit."

Coach Ron Rivera has been emphatic that Harper's absence in practice and the first three preseason games wasn't an issue even though the defense has given up some big pass plays. He's reminded that Quintin Mikell started last season's opener at strong safety after signing a week earlier.

He also could have reminded that free safety Mike Mitchell, who went to Pittsburgh in free agency, didn't become a starter until after the secondary was decimated by injuries in Week 2.

But Rivera is glad Harper is back.

"Roman does have a veteran quality to himself," he said. "We're excited to have him around. What is missing is that veteran leadership presence."

Harper is glad he's returning before playing his first regular-season game -- Sept. 7 at Tampa Bay -- as a Panther.

"Not even so much [for getting ready for] Tampa Bay, but more so for myself," he said. "I've got to get back out here and get into shape. I've tried to get in shape as best as I can, but there's nothing like football shape."

Harper won't discuss whether the toe is completely healed, reminding he doesn't discuss injuries. But he admitted being a spectator for more than three weeks with a new team hasn't been easy.

"You come in with a sense of wanting to fit in and do the different things and show your work," Harper said. "When you get injured, that kind of sets you back. Training camp is a time where guys work on things and physically come together as a team.

"For me being gone, I was here but not really out there playing with the guys and going through the wars. It was kind of difficult."

With Harper, Carolina's secondary is set. Thomas DeCoud, a free agent from Atlanta, will start at free safety. Antoine Cason, a free agent from Arizona, will start at one cornerback and returning starter Melvin White will be on the other side.

Harper's return means either Anderson Russell or Robert Lester likely will become expendable when the team shrinks its roster to 53 players. Russell has started the past two preseason games over Lester, who missed the past two practices with an ankle injury.

The big question now is will the new secondary be as solid as the one last season that helped Carolina rank second in the NFL in total defense?

"Communication has been fine," Harper said. "Guys are getting lined up. We've got to get to the huddle calls a little bit faster. But overall, if you look at it on tape, the defense has not played bad."
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Carolina Panthers are planning for their Sept. 7 opener at Tampa Bay as if quarterback Cam Newton will start.

Newton suffered a hairline fracture in a rib during the second quarter of Friday night's exhibition loss at New England. He will not play in Thursday night's preseason finale at Pittsburgh, but he is attending every meeting and watching every snap at practice.

Newton
Newton
While Newton is not physically involved, he has been mentally since the team began putting the Tampa Bay game plan in on Sunday.

"Very, very," coach Ron Rivera said on Monday. "He's with the coordinator, he's with the quarterback coach and they're talking about what we're looking at and why we're looking at it.

"So Cam's getting a feel for Tampa Bay right now."

Rivera said he hasn't gotten an update on how much Newton's condition has improved in the last 24 hours, but the first pick of the 2011 draft did seem less stiff when walking.

As Newton left the practice field, rookie wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin playfully nudged him in the shoulder a couple of times. Newton responded by raising his arms and playfully shoving Benjamin back.

Rivera said treatment hasn't gotten in the way of Newton being a part of all planning involving the Bucs.

"We're working around him," said Rivera, who closed practices to the media when preparing for the Bucs began. "We're focusing him on Tampa in terms of our preparation."

Rivera said there aren't two different game plans in case Newton can't play against Tampa Bay and backup Derek Anderson has to start.

"We're putting a regular game plan together," he said. "The big thing is everything we put in our game plan Derek is able to do. We don't have two separate sheets. We have one plan."

But Rivera is having to make adjustments for what little game plan there will be for Pittsburgh. With Anderson's wife expecting their first child at any time and fourth-string quarterback Matt Blanchard out with a concussion, there's a chance third-stringer Joe Webb is the only quarterback.

As a precaution, Rivera said a couple of non-quarterbacks are being prepped to play quarterback if Anderson is with his wife and Webb gets hurt. He would not identify them.

Otherwise, Rivera said the plan is to play the healthy starters for about a quarter.

Starters not expected to play against Pittsburgh include Newton, right guard Trai Turner (groin), defensive ends Greg Hardy (shoulder) and Charles Johnson (hamstring).

A decision has not been made on tight end Greg Olsen, whose son successfully underwent open heart surgery on Monday.

All are expected to be ready for Tampa Bay.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Carolina Panthers tight end Greg Olsen is taking some time off from practice to deal with a personal matter.

Olsen's son, T.J., was scheduled to undergo open heart surgery on Monday for the third time after being born in 2012 with hypoplastic left heart syndrome. Olsen was scheduled to be away from the team "until things kind of settle down'' to be with his family.

Here's what he wrote on Twitter:

The team showed its support of Olsen, huddling to pray for his son and family after Sunday's practice. "Any time you're dealing with open heart surgery on a child, it's pretty delicate and scary in itself," Olsen told reporters. "We're unfortunately getting used to this. It's the hand he was dealt, it's the hand we were dealt, and we'll take it on like we have the last two and just hope for as fast a recovery as he can.''

As for the Carolina offense, Olsen believes it will recover from Friday night's 30-7 exhibition loss in which quarterback Cam Newton suffered a hairline fracture to a rib in the second quarter. Newton will miss Thursday night's exhibition finale against Pittsburgh and his status for the Sept. 7 opener at Tampa Bay remains unclear.

Olsen isn't worried his time away will be an issue. He said many of the problems that limited Carolina to 94 yards and no points in the first half when the starters -- minus a few injured players -- played the entire way were addressed on Sunday.

"The world's not coming to an end,'' said Olsen, who led Carolina in receptions last season with 73. "That's the biggest thing, we need to understand that game doesn't matter. It's going to have zero impact on the Tampa game. That's where all of our efforts are towards.''
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera is correct to be optimistic about having Cam Newton available for Week 1, but that doesn't mean the quarterback won't be affected by his rib injury.

Newton
Newton
Newton suffered a hairline rib fracture in the second quarter of Friday night's 30-7 preseason loss at New England when linebacker Jamie Collins stepped on his back at the end of a 7-yard scramble.

Newton will not play in Thursday's preseason finale at Pittsburgh, but Rivera is hopeful the first pick of the 2011 draft will be ready for the Sept. 7 opener at Tampa Bay.

ESPN injury analyst Stephania Bell had this to say: "Rib injuries make it painful to move in any direction, twist, turn, reach, even take a deep breath. Even if pain gets manageable by Week 1, it could still hurt to throw hard [twisting rib cage, tug of abdominal muscles], run hard [the impact as well as breathing].

"If running and throwing aren't painful, it's still possible contact could aggravate. Much will be determined based on how he responds over next handful of days."

If you need an example of a quarterback who has played through the pain, look no further than Dallas' Tony Romo. He suffered a fractured rib and punctured lung against San Francisco in Week 2 of the 2011 season.

He played the following week against Washington and led the Cowboys to an 18-16 Monday night victory, completing 22 of 36 pass attempts for 255 yards.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- It's time for Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton to learn how to slide.

If that means hiring a base-running coach from Charlotte's Triple-A baseball team or holding daily practice sessions on a slip-n-side at Bank of America Stadium, the first pick of the 2011 draft needs to put his ego aside and be smart.

Newton didn't slide in Friday night's exhibition loss at New England and he's now questionable for the Sept. 7 opener at Tampa Bay with a hairline fracture to a rib.

Had he gone to the ground feet first instead of diving at the end of a 7-yard scramble in the second quarter of a meaningless game, Patriots linebacker Jamie Collins wouldn't have stepped on his back and coach Ron Rivera wouldn't be making alternative plans for Thursday's exhibition finale.

And maybe longer.

"Very frustrating," Rivera said on Sunday when breaking the news of his quarterback's injury. "The unfortunate part is he had a chance to make a play on it. He chose to tuck it and run. One thing he's going to have to learn is either dump it or learn how to slide."

This isn't the first time Rivera has said this.

It likely won't be the last.

[+] EnlargeRon Rivera
Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports"One thing he's going to have to learn is either dump it or learn how to slide," Panthers coach Ron Rivera said of Cam Newton.
Newton revels in the bravado of getting everything out of a play he can. At 6-foot-5 and 245-pounds, he is physically more imposing than most of the players he takes on.

He was at least equal in stature to Collins, who is 6-3, 250.

"I'm not a sliding type of guy," Newton said last Thursday when asked if he needs to slide more, at the time addressing whether to protect his surgically repaired left ankle. "I get down the best way I know how. I really wasn't good at baseball."

He won't be good at football if he doesn't do a better job of protecting himself. The best way to do that is slide, because the defender has to lay off.

Dive, and defensive players' eyes get big and they start to drool.

It's open season on quarterbacks.

"A lot of concerns," Rivera said. "Every time he runs there are concerns. ... He's competitive by nature. Competitive people, who are truly competitive, always try to do the hard thing. Cam will never try to do the easy thing, and that's to side that way."

This wasn't Rivera on Sunday. This was Rivera after a Thursday night game against Tampa Bay last season when Newton dove awkwardly forward several times for extra yards.

"We've tried everything with him," Rivera said after that game. "He knows that if he slides the ball reverts to where he first touches the ground, but if he goes forward it's [progress] until he stops. Again, it's his competitive nature."

But Newton can't compete when he's not on the field. The hairline fracture will keep him out of Thursday night's exhibition finale against Pittsburgh in which Rivera had hoped his quarterback could fine tune the timing with his new receivers.

Because he didn't slide, Newton loses that and another week of practice with Kelvin Benjamin, Jerricho Cotchery and Jason Avant. Because he didn't slide, his throwing motion could be impacted in the opener if he plays.

Because he didn't slide, he may not be able to play.

It has left Rivera feeling the same frustration that Washington coach Jay Gruden had on Monday night after quarterback Robert Griffin III kept taking big hits against Cleveland.

This time for Newton it's a fractured rib. The next time it could be a concussion.

There's no doubt the Panthers are better offensively when Newton runs. He has more rushing yards (2,032) and rushing touchdowns (28) than any quarterback in the NFL the past three seasons.

There's also no doubt the Panthers are better when Newton is on the field.

He will be a lot less if he doesn't learn to slide.

W2W4: Carolina Panthers

August, 22, 2014
Aug 22
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The Carolina Panthers (1-1) face the New England Patriots (1-1) at 7:30 p.m. at Gillette Stadium.

Here are three things to watch for:

1. Timing: It was obvious that quarterback Cam Newton needs more time working with his new receivers after he made his preseason debut in Sunday night's 28-16 victory over Kansas City. He started 1-for-5, missing rookie wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin wide open down the left sideline at one point. The Panthers have increased Newton's reps in practice, but as coach Ron Rivera acknowledged, you can't simulate game speed. Newton will play the first half. It will be his last significant tune-up for the regular season with starters expected to play sparingly -- if at all -- in the final preseason game. He has shown chemistry with Benjamin and his other receivers in practice, but now needs to do that in a game. The Patriots should be a good test. They had two forced fumbles and two interceptions that they turned into 21 points in last week's 42-35 exhibition win over Philadelphia.

2. Time to step up: The Panthers signed free agent wide receiver Tiquan Underwood to a two-year deal after losing their top four receivers from 2013. You don't do that unless you expect him to make the roster. As of now he's on the outside looking in. The top three are Benjamin, Jerricho Cotchery and Jason Avant. If the season started today, because of his return duties, undrafted rookie Philly Brown would be the fourth. Brenton Bersin would be the fifth in the team activated five. Odds are Carolina won't keep more than six receivers on their 53-man roster. Rivera continues to harp that he wants to see one or two outside the top three step up. Underwood is one of those because of his elite speed, something the top three don't have and another reason Brown's stock has risen. That the opponent is New England is a bit ironic because the Patriots released him the night before their Super Bowl loss to the Giants during the 2011 season. Rivera is going to give the young receivers more opportunities. If Underwood doesn't step up, he could be in danger of being cut for the ninth time in his career.

3. Time to start fast: The Carolina defense has started slowly in each of the first two preseason games, giving up big chunks of yardage early. The Panthers were outgained 114-1 at one point during the first quarter, but to their credit gave up only a pair of field goals. Many of those yards were surrendered due to mistakes or communication breakdowns in the secondary. Some of that has to do with a new group of defensive backs learning each other. Melvin White and Antoine Cason appear to have nailed down the starting corner jobs, and Charles Godfrey appears set as the nickelback in his transition from safety. But starting strong safety Roman Harper (turf toe) has yet to play in a preseason game and won't again tonight, leaving unheralded Anderson Russell and Robert Lester fighting for the backup job. Free safety Thomas DeCoud is in his first season with Carolina, so he's still adjusting to the system. Facing Future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady should give this group a good idea of where they are.

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