Carolina Panthers: What We've Learned Through Week 2 of Preseason
Now through two weeks of preseason action, the Panthers depth chart is beginning to take form, and with every day comes a clearer picture of which players have made the most of their offseason training and which are in danger of being cut from the roster.
The reactions coming out of the 28-16 victory over the Chiefs are overwhelmingly positive, as one would expect following a sound defeat of another 2013 playoff team.
Those positive reactions are warranted, as the team did play well on Sunday night. And despite a few hiccups here and there, it looks like the Panthers are starting to get into regular-season form.
Read on to find out what we now know about the Panthers after two weeks of preseason football.
Byron Bell Will Be a Solid Left Tackle
It appears that the concern of finding a competent replacement for Jordan Gross at left tackle is slowly fading as Byron Bell continues to impress in the preseason.
Bell was facing one of the league's best pass-rushers in Tamba Hali and appeared to have him completely neutralized. He also got a great push in the run game, opening up holes for the patient Jonathan Stewart to dart through.
The focus now switches to right tackle, where Nate Chandler had an up-and-down night. He was replaced by Garry Williams for a series after giving up a sack and generally didn't look very comfortable on the field.
However, Chandler is still learning the position, and patience with him will be key. You don't make NFL offensive linemen in a year of coaching; it takes several full seasons before players can start relying completely on reaction and play nearer to their full potential.
Cam Newton Is Still Learning to Trust His Surgically Repaired Ankle
On Sunday night, Newton showed off that he's nearly 100 percent recovered from his offseason ankle surgery, but the physical recovery isn't all that he must overcome.
Newton has to learn to trust his surgically repaired ankle when he's planting off of it to launch a deep pass or attempting to evade pass-rushers.
It looked like he still has some progress to make in that phase of the recovery as he launched few long passes against the Chiefs, and his longest attempt was an overthrow to Kelvin Benjamin, who was coming open down the seam.
Newton also appeared to be a bit more cautious than usual when dodging pressure in the pocket, but that could be as much a coaching decision as it was his own mental reaction to the situation.
We should get a better idea of how good he is feeling about his ankle come next week, when he'll see more playing time with all of the projected starters around him.
Jonathan Stewart Is Healthy and Ready to Make an Impact
You can't blame Panthers fans for growing exhausted with Jonathan Stewart's inability to stay on the field over the past two seasons, but it appears that the wait was worthwhile.
Stewart looked great against the Chiefs, who have one of the stronger run defenses in the league. He has also been a patient runner, but he also displayed burst and agility that we haven't seen from him since 2011.
The night included two touchdown runs for Stewart, who—in tandem with fullback Mike Tolbert—will look to further diminish the need for Newton to run near the goal line this season.
If Stewart can remain healthy and playing like he did last night, the Panthers will have a formidable four-headed rushing monster between him, Tolbert, Newton and DeAngelo Williams.
The Return Duties Belong to Kenjon Barner and Philly Brown
The offseason search to replace Ted Ginn Jr. as the team's kick and punt returner has been long and at times seemingly hopeless.
After most of the returners struggled early on, it appeared that Kealoha Pilares was beginning to separate himself from the pack in practice.
However, after an unimpressive performance from Pilares in Preseason Week 1, running back Kenjon Barner and receiver Philly Brown were handed the returning duties in Week 2, and they made the most of it.
Barner's lone kick return was a 31-yarder, and Brown returned two for a total of 65 yards, but a muffed Brown punt return in the fourth quarter hopefully will not become a recurring issue.
Antoine Cason Is a Legitimate No. 1 Cornerback
Antoine Cason was brought in through free agency as an immediate replacement starter for Captain Munnerlyn, who was lost to the Vikings, and Cason appeared up to the task on Sunday night.
What the team lost most when Munnerlyn left was his tenacity against the run and no-fear attitude in taking on and shedding blockers. Cason played with similar tenacity against the Chiefs and led the team with six tackles on the night.
Cason was also solid in coverage, and although the Chiefs' No. 1 Dwayne Bowe caught five passes for 62 yards on the night, the Panthers played zone-heavy and Cason was rarely responsible for a Bowe reception.
If he can continue to play at a high level, Cason will be an invaluable part of the Panthers secondary that is in dire need of some consistency following an offseason where it lost three of its four starters. The good news is that he's off to a quick start.