Carolina Panthers Training Camp: Week 5 Progress Report
With the first round of cuts out of the way and just one preseason game left, the majority of Panthers players have already finished making their case for the final 53-man roster.
For better or worse, the coaching staff will begin reviewing tape and notes on all players and then decide who will be cut to reduce the roster by another 22 players.
For those who are fighting for a starting job rather than a roster spot, their time to prove their worth is also over, at least until the regular season; teams tend to pay very little attention to the final preseason game, especially pertaining to the performance of their starters.
Read on to find out which players have made a good impression at the right time and which have incited doubts heading into the final week of the preseason.
Stock Up: Joe Webb, Quarterback
Joe Webb has really proved to be a worthy backup quarterback this preseason and in the process has made the more highly paid Derek Anderson expendable.
With a team like St. Louis now potentially looking to acquire assets at the position, the Panthers could be in good position to deal one of their backup quarterbacks, as long as they're confident in Cam Newton's health moving forward.
Webb's impressive play has likely garnered attention outside of the Panthers' staff, so it's possible that other teams could be looking to acquire him in exchange for a late-round draft pick or, as the Panthers would prefer, an offensive lineman.
Stock Down: Byron Bell, Left Tackle
Byron Bell's preseason was going smoothly until a tough matchup with Chandler Jones of the New England Patriots in Week 3.
Jones' athleticism was clearly an issue for Bell, who allowed two sacks to his foe on the night, although he received little assistance from running backs or tight ends.
I'm still confident that Bell will have a surprisingly good season, but his performance last week certainly did not make me feel any better about making such an assertion.
Stock Up: Kelvin Benjamin, Wide Receiver
Kelvin Benjamin is proving to be the top acquisition of the offseason, whether through the draft or free agency.
Newton has shown more confidence and comfort with Benjamin than any other receiver on the roster, and it has shown lately. The rookie receiver has led the team in receiving yards for two straight weeks.
Before Benjamin was pulled from the game against the Patriots, he was their biggest headache and was consistently getting open, even against the one of the top cornerbacks in the league, Darrelle Revis.
If the Panthers were hoping to get a dominant No.1 receiver to match up with Newton for years to come, the early signs are pointing in a positive direction.
Stock Down: Darrin Reaves, Running Back
Throughout training camp and the first week of the preseason, I was encouraged by what I saw out of Darrin Reaves, but he hasn't played in consecutive weeks now. If he can't get healthy and back on the field before the final preseason game on Thursday, he could be a prime candidate to be cut.
The impressive play of the recently acquired Fozzy Whittaker also makes Reaves more expendable. With Jonathan Stewart seemingly back to full health, it's possible that the Panthers stick with three halfbacks—Stewart, Whittaker and DeAngelo Williams—because fullback Mike Tolbert can always move to halfback in the case of an injury.
Stock Up: Star Lotulelei, Defensive Tackle
Star Lotulelei was one of few defensive players who played outstanding against the Patriots.
Out to prove that his dominant rookie season was no fluke, Lotulelei was constantly penetrating into the New England backfield, proving equally disruptive against the run and the pass.
Lotulelei is beginning to draw double-teams from interior linemen. That could prove highly advantageous to the Panthers when Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy are on the field, as leaving both of these dominant edge-rushers in one-on-one situations could prove dangerous for offenses.
Stock Down: Garry Williams, Offensive Lineman
The Panthers were hoping that veteran lineman Garry Williams could provide steady play if tackles Bell or Nate Chandler faltered, but Williams' play has been very poor so far.
He appears heavy-footed in pass protection and gets very little push in the game; his assignment seems to make the tackle with more regularity than any of the other Panthers' linemen.
If Williams weren't one of the more veteran players on the offensive line and the team wasn't so thin up front, he would likely be cut based on his play this offseason.
Stock Up: Brad Nortman, Punter
In the media, we rarely talk about members of the special teams, except when they return a kick for a touchdown or suffer some grand blunder.
But I have to mention Brad Nortman here because he has single-handedly made the Panthers' punt team one of the league's strongest. He regularly boots out bombs and showed his ability to nail opponents down within their 20-yard-line last week.
With Nortman, the Panthers have a great punter for the foreseeable future, and they'd be smart to sign him to an extension as soon as possible.
Stock Down: Backup Defensive Line
We all know how strong the Panthers' starting defensive line is, but while the backups have proved very competent in recent seasons, their performance against New England was less than spectacular.
Defensive ends Kony Ealy and Mario Addison, who have shown promise as talented pass-rushers, were non-factors against the pass last week. Frank Alexander, who has been one of the Panthers' most steady defensive ends against the rush, was blown off the ball on several occasions.
This group has to get its act together soon because the Panthers thrive on keeping talented, high-energy players on the field by using their defensive line rotation. If some players aren't pulling their weight, they will be quickly forgotten or potentially even discarded.