Making the Call on the Carolina Panthers' Toughest Remaining Cuts
The Panthers are heading into the third week of the preseason and plenty of uncertainty still exists concerning the state of the roster.
Some players have firmly entrenched themselves on the team while the fate of others may have been determined by their unimpressive play throughout offseason activities.
However, there are always several players on a team who are right on the line of making or missing the cut, and those are the decisions which put the most pressure on the coaching staff and team management.
The following players are currently toeing that line. Read on to find out which side of roster cuts they'll come out on.
Philly Brown, Wide Receiver
At the beginning of training camp, the undrafted rookie out of Ohio State looked like a long shot to make the roster; the team was loaded with receivers and had a number of players competing with him for punt return duties.
However, the player who took punt returns ahead of Brown in Week 1 of the preseason, Kenjon Barner, has now been traded to Philadelphia, while one of the receivers who was thought to be a lock for the roster at the start of camp, Tiquan Underwood, has not made much of an impact in the preseason and could be cut.
Brown is now the Panthers' best bet at punt returner, as they'd like to keep starting cornerback Antoine Cason out of the return game, and he appears primed to be one of what will likely be six receivers to make the roster.
Robert Lester, Strong Safety
Robert Lester was thrown into the lineup frequently in 2013, his rookie season, because of injuries to starter Quintin Mikell.
However, there's a chance that Lester won't be the primary backup at strong safety again in 2014 courtesy of Anderson Russell, who has apparently already overtaken Lester on the depth chart.
This could mean that Lester is on the outs, but that can change as more is learned of the timetable for Harper's return from a turf toe injury. If he will miss any regular-season time, Lester will likely have a roster spot locked up, but if Harper gets healthy, it could be a tough decision for the Panthers to make.
Josh Norman, Cornerback
Josh Norman has made a reputation for himself as a great preseason and training camp performer, but his temper may have landed him in head coach Ron Rivera's doghouse at a very unfortunate time.
With less than a week before the first round of cuts, Norman is coming off a game where his jawing with Chiefs receiver Dwayne Bowe incited verbal rebukes courtesy of Rivera and linebacker Thomas Davis.
It also led Rivera to release a statement on the need for Panthers players to better control their actions on the field.
Norman is an absolute ball hawk, and there's no telling how good he could be if he mastered the mental aspects of the game, but until then, he's an underperforming 26-year-old who seems to be more of a headache than it's worth.
Joe Webb, Quarterback
Obviously third-string quarterback isn't the highest of priorities for the Panthers heading into the season, but Joe Webb has done nothing but impress during the offseason and it's hard to cut a player after he's done everything asked of him.
Webb likely would have led the Panthers to a comeback victory in the first week of the preseason had Marcus Lucas not tipped up a pass on a slant pattern late in fourth quarter that fell into the hands of a Buffalo defender.
He also played briefly against the Chiefs last Sunday and was a solid 2-of-3 for 27 yards.
Backup Derek Anderson will likely only be around until his contract expires in 2016, and if Carolina wants to hold on to a surefire future replacement, Webb looks like a good bet.
Fozzy Whittaker, Running Back
If there was a primary beneficiary of the Panthers trading away Barner, it was Whitaker, who, on the heels of a 13-carry, 71-yard, one-touchdown performance on Sunday, looks to be in good position to gain a roster spot.
The Panthers are no stranger to injury troubles at the running back position and typically keep one to two backups beyond Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams.
Whitaker has only impressed since signing with the team and although he may not have the time to surpass Darrin Reaves on the depth chart, he does have the ability to contribute in the return game, should the Panthers not find their starters at those positions adequate.
Whitaker is a great young talent whom the Panthers would be smart to invest in now in order to develop him into a potential starter when Williams—and possibly Stewart—inevitably parts ways with the team in the coming years.