5 Things to Look for in Carolina Panthers' Final Preseason Game

Jimmy GrapponeCorrespondent IAugust 29, 2012

5 Things to Look for in Carolina Panthers' Final Preseason Game

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    Only one more day remains before Marty Hurney and Ron Rivera trim the fat from the Carolina Panthers' (2-1) 75-man preseason roster, finalizing the team they will take to Tampa, Florida for the season opener on September 9.

    First, they have to get through the final game of the 2012 NFL preseason on the road tonight against the Pittsburgh Steelers (2-1) at 7:00PM EST at Heinz Field.

    This game is essentially a tryout between the bottom third of the current roster vying for a handful of positions on the 53-man regular season roster.

    Those who don't pass the muster will hope for an opportunity with another team or an NFL practice squad.

    Though the quality of play in the final preseason game will more closely resemble that of the first preseason game than the first regular season game, I was able to come with at least five reasons to watch Thursday night's matchup.

Jimmy Clausen's Open Audition

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    I agree with ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas that the Carolina Panthers should start Jimmy Clausen against the Pittsburgh Steelers and let him take every single offensive snap of the game.

    Cam Newton and most of the starters will either be in street clothes or holding their helmets all game and Derek Anderson has already played well enough in the preseason to show everyone.

    This is the most meaningful game Jimmy Clausen has played in since he was the starter in 2010.

    Only two things can happen. Clausen can play well or he'll stink it up. 

    If he plays well, perhaps the Panthers can get something for him and wish him luck as he continues his NFL career elsewhere.

    If he stinks, they should send him packing and consider placing him on the practice squad if no other team picks him up.

    Either way, expect to see a lot of Clausen on Thursday night because you may never see him play in a Panthers uniform again.

Bubble Players Trying to Make the Team

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    22 players will be cut from the Carolina Panthers' active roster on Friday, August 31.

    That means there are 25 players fighting for the final three roster spots and there are several big names who may not make the final cut.

    Jimmy Clausen could—and should—be playing his final game in a Panthers uniform against the Steelers.

    Armanti Edwards could be about to play his last game in an NFL uniform.

    Safeties Sherrod Martin, Jordan Pugh and Reggie Smith, along with cornerbacks Darius Butler and Captain Munnerlyn, are all vulnerable in the secondary, though all five could potentially make the team.

    Tauren Poole and Armond Smith are fighting for the third running back position behind Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams.

    Wide receivers Lamont Bryant and Jared Green are auditioning for practice squad positions and Seyi Ajirotutu needs to step up his play if he hopes to make an impact on the Panthers' offense this season.

    Fortunately for Ajirotutu and newcomer Louis Murphy, would-be starter David Gettis will spend the first six weeks of the season on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list.

    Rookie defensive tackle, Nate Chandler, could also benefit from a player at his position missing time during the regular season with Andre Neblett serving a four-game suspension to start the year after failing a drug test for performance enhancing drugs.

    The starters may be resting on the sidelines at Heinz Field on Thursday night, but there are plenty of players to watch for on the bubble.

    If you can speak intelligently to the guys at work about the 50th man to make the roster and can name the Panthers' practice squad players, you may just get that promotion you applied for last week.

Young Legs

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    The Carolina Panthers have new faces and new legs at kicker and punter in 2012 after Justin Medlock and rookie Brad Nortman won their respective position battles this preseason, beating out veterans Olindo Mare and Nick Harris.

    Medlock, a former star at UCLA, spent the past three seasons kicking in the Canadian Football League after being drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs in 2007.

    Nortman, a sixth-round draft choice out of Wisconsin, is the first punter the Panthers have ever taken in the draft.

    The competitions were tight, but the young legs proved they could hang with the veterans. Both players have more upside and come at a cheaper price than Mare and Harris who would have been starting their 16th and 12th seasons, respectively.

    Here is hoping that both Medlock and Nortman are at the beginnings of long and successful careers with the Panthers. 

Special Teams

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    If there is one area where the starters could end up getting a significant number of reps, it is the kick and punt coverage units.

    The Panthers ranked among the worst special teams units in the NFL in 2012 thanks to their lackluster punt return and punt and kickoff coverage units.

    It looks like rookie punt returner Joe Adams is going to solve the first problem, but the coverage teams could still use one more game to refine their techniques and assignments.

    The Panthers addressed their coverage issues during the offseason by signing veteran special teamers Haruki Nakamura, Mike Tolbert and Kenny Onatolu to join Jordan Senn and company on the coverage units.

    Because special teams units have so few in-game opportunities, expect the new guys to take the field for at least a couple of punts and kickoffs, if not for the entire game.

Vanilla Play Calling

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    Rob "Chud" Chudzinski is not going to call a Statue of Liberty, a fumblerooskie, or a wideout-to-QB downfield pass from Armanti Edwards to Jimmy Clausen during Thursday night's preseason game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

    Actually, he might call one of those plays just to give the Tampa Bay Buccaneers something extra to prepare for, but the Panthers' offensive coordinator will save his best and newest stuff for the regular season.

    If you tune in for the game, expect to see plenty of student-body left and student-body right with the occasional play-action pass mixed in.

    Though the puppet master will not put his offensive creativity on full display in Carolina's final preseason game, at least Chud's most vanilla play calling will be less predictable than third-and-long when John Fox was in charge of the Panthers.

     

    Jimmy Grappone is a Featured Columnist covering the Carolina Panthers and the NFL.

    Grappone also has a growing presence on Twitter, so you might want to follow him @jimmygrappone if you want to be considered "in the loop."

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