- Pat Yasinskas, ESPN Staff Writer
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This should come as absolutely no surprise, because it’s what the Carolina Panthers envisioned on draft day and what they’ve seen so far in training camp. But the world got to see the impact of rookie linebacker Luke Kuechly in Saturday night’s preseason opener, a 26-13 loss to the Houston Texans.
It didn’t take long for Kuechly to do what he’s done in practice every day -- make a big play. On Houston’s second drive of the night, Kuechly put a big hit on running back Arian Foster and forced a fumble that was recovered by safety Sherrod Martin. That turnover helped set up a field goal for the Panthers.
Kuechly left the game after the first quarter, but finished with two solo tackles, two assists and the forced fumble. Spread that out over four quarters and over an entire season, and it sure looks like the Panthers have found a playmaker at linebacker.
Some other observations on the Panthers:
It was hard to really get a read on quarterback Cam Newton’s performance. Statistically, it wasn’t great. He completed two of six passes for 16 yards, and also ran twice for 16 yards. But Newton didn’t get blocking from his offensive line and also had at least one pass dropped. Newton led the Panthers to a field goal before leaving the game after three offensive series. It also was pretty obvious the Panthers weren’t showing anything close to their full playbook.
It was only a preseason game, but you could tell by the way the Panthers shuffled DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart and Mike Tolbert with the first team that they have big plans for their backfield. All three are going to get quality playing time. Nothing wrong with that. The Saints had pretty good luck last season shuffling Darren Sproles, Pierre Thomas, Mark Ingram and Chris Ivory.
Speaking of running back depth, rookie Tauren Poole, who had a short touchdown run in the second quarter, has a decent chance to make this team. At worst, he’s probably a guy the Panthers would like to keep on the practice squad.
The Panthers held middle linebacker Jon Beason out as he recovers from a minor injury that’s not related to the torn Achilles tendon he suffered last season. Jason Phillips started in Beason’s place and came up with an interception late in the first quarter. If Phillips continues to progress and Thomas Davis can get healthy, the Panthers could have some very nice depth at linebacker.
Speaking of linebacker depth, the Panthers have plenty on the outside as well. Jordan Senn, who was a part-time starter last season, is going to be a backup this season. But Senn was very productive Saturday night, leading the Panthers with 13 tackles.
The Panthers went to great lengths to try to improve their special teams in the offseason. So far, that’s not paying off. Carolina allowed Trindon Holliday to return a kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown.
I'm not sure rookie Joe Adams will have much of a role as a receiver, because there's so much depth at the position. But, after watching his spectacular third-quarter punt return, I'm thinking there's a good chance Adams has a big role in the return game.
I think Louis Murphy already was in the mix to be the No. 3 receiver. But he might have moved into the lead for that job Saturday night. Murphy had a nice leaping catch on the sideline in the second quarter, and also caught another pass where he put a nice move on the defensive back that resulted in some yards after the catch.
Forget any chance of Jeremy Shockey being re-signed by the Panthers. Gary Barnidge sure looks like he’s ready to be the No. 2 tight end.
Be sure to check out the Camp Confidential profile on the Panthers. It's scheduled to pop up on the blog early Sunday afternoon.