Carolina Panthers: 5 Fringe Players Who Must Play Well vs. the New York Jets
The third preseason game is traditionally the game where the starters will play at least the first half, and this is when the team will learn what kind of shape it will be in come the regular season. It is true that the game's focus will be on the starters, but the real focus should be on those who play in the second half.
The second half will consist of players vying to be the first backup at their respective positions, with most of the losers of these battles being sentenced to the special teams unit or they will be cut.
Josh Vaughan, RB
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The Carolina Panthers feature what is arguably the best backfield in the NFL.
The group includes DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, or better known as "Double Trouble." In 2009, the duo became the first pair of running backs in history to each rush for at least 1,100 yards. Both backs are also under contact for the foreseeable future.
The Panthers then added the versatile Mike Tolbert this offseason. He will play fullback as well as halfback in order to best utilize his talents.
If these standouts were not enough, add in Cam Newton, who is not only a strong-armed quarterback, but is a 6'6", 250-pound running threat.
So whoever is the final running back will likely not even touch the ball this season, but he is still needed in case the group is hit hard by injury like in 2010. Josh Vaughan has been that last back for the last couple years, but he is in jeopardy as undrafted rookie Tauren Poole has been explosive this preseason.
Poole rushed for 26 yards and a touchdown against the Houston Texans and he did so with authority.
Max Henson of the Carolina Panthers homepage confirms this:
"He was decisive and ran with authority, like he had something to prove."
The Jets defense will be tough to run against, but when facing a guy who is showing his hunger to the coaching staff, Vaughan will need to be impressive to have a chance to stay.
Jordan Pugh, FS/SS
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Jordan Pugh has to be worried about his chances of making the team.
The former sixth-round pick out of Texas A&M has watched the Carolina Panthers bring in two veteran safeties to force competition that was lacking at the safety position.
The Panthers signed Haruki Nakamura, formerly of the Baltimore ravens.
Nakamura has shown that he learned from Ed Reed while in Baltimore and has now started both preseason games at the free safety position.
Charles Godfrey has been the other starter manning the strong safety position, and his job does not seem to be in any danger.
To make matters worse for Pugh, Pat Yasinskas of ESPN.com reported that "the acquisition (of Nakamura) seems to have ignited a fire under (Sherrod) Martin. He's having a nice training camp..."
With three of likely only four safety spots filled, it will come down to Pugh and veteran Reggie Smith.
Smith was a former starter for the San Francisco 49ers before going down to injury. Pugh has a tall task and will need to make heads turn if he wants to beat out the veteran and stay in Carolina.
Armanti Edwards and Seyi Ajirotutu, WR
Armanti Edwards plowing through on a special teams return
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The Carolina Panthers opened training camp with only Steve Smith as the known receiver.
Early into camp, Brandon LaFell joined Smith and established himself as the second option and starter opposite Smith.
So coming into the preseason, there were still four spots up for grabs. After two preseason games, the top six receivers may already be set.
Joe Adams was not going to be cut and his punt returns during the first two games have only further cemented his place on the roster. Louis Murphy, who came over in a trade with the Oakland Raiders, has shown in both games that he can make catches and make plays down the field.
Before they even knew it was coming, Armanti Edwards and Seyi Ajirotutu became fringe players likely to not make the roster.
Edwards was a former third-round pick out of Appalachian State. He was a quarterback there, but his agility and speed projected him as a receiver and return man in the NFL.
Unfortunately for Edwards, the transition is taking too long. He has already lost his job to Adams and now he has to try and beat out David Gettis and Kealoha Pilares.
With Pilares being the leading candidate for the kickoff return job and Gettis being a tall deep threat that showed great potential in his rookie year, Edwards will have to give more than 100 percent if he wants to make the roster.
Edwards is not alone as Ajirotutu is in the same boat.
He is a 6'3" receiver brought over from San Diego. His size and familiarity with the offensive scheme made him a reasonable acquisition that could possibly push for the No. 2 receiver job.
Ajirotutu has not done enough, though, and is in danger of not making the team. He has been inconsistent when it comes to catching the ball and is getting little separation.
The former Fresno State standout will also be trying to replace Pilares and Gettis on the roster, as well as outdueling Edwards.
If the roster was made today, it would not shock anyone if Edwards and Ajirotutu were not on it.
Olindo Mare, K
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If there was ever a guy who needed to have the performance of his life against the New York jets, it would be Olindo Mare.
Since the first day he was a Panther, he was under the gun. The Carolina Panthers had released the last original Panther in John Kasay.
Mare needed to fill enormous shoes and he failed. He missed a number of key kicks including one against the rival Atlanta Falcons that would have given Carolina the lead late in the game.
Mare is about as close to being unanimously hated by a fanbase as anyone in Panthers history.
To Panthers fans, replacing Kasay with Mare was like if the Patriots replaced Tom Brady with Tim Couch, especially after Panthers fans then got to see Kasay help defeat the Panthers twice as a member of the New Orleans Saints.
Fans actually have created a Facebook page called "Cut Olindo Mare."
To top it all off, now Mare has serious competition in former CFL kicker Justin Medlock.
Medlock carries a big leg and has been perfect so far this preseason. Medlock also made all 46 attempts last season with a long of 57 while with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
The 16-year veteran will have a hard time holding off the 28-year-old former CFL kicker, but a great game against the Jets may keep him in the running until the final cuts.
No Panther has more on the line this week than Mare, but it may already be time for the veteran Mare to start packing.