Cam Newton and 6 Other Rookies Who Have the Most Riding on Preseason Week 4
At this point in training camp, and with the preseason winding down, this is where coaches are expecting players to make an impact.
If they do, then they get a roster spot.
However if they don't, then good luck on the practice squad (best-case scenario).
And for the rookies who have been playing, this is the NFL's version of final exams, and could determine how much playing time is given in the real season.
Including Cam Newton, here are seven rookies who have the most riding on the fourth week of the 2011 NFL preseason.
Blaine Gabbert: QB, Jacksonville Jaguars
Rick Stewart/Getty Images
He's currently in a QB battle with David Garrard whether Jags' fans want to realize it or not.
And at one point, the Missouri gunslinger was slated to be the No. 1 overall pick.
Luckily for Jacksonville, he fell to them, which gives their team some solid depth (at the very least).
Also, don't think for a second that Luke McCown has a chance to start, because Gabbert is way better, as is Garrard.
What Blaine can do with the final preseason game is play well enough to cause a stir for when the regular season approaches.
Garrard has shown flaky play at times, and is susceptible in turning the ball over.
Let's face it, head coach Jack Del Rio didn't take him in round one to watch him sit back as the third or fourth string QB.
Don't be surprised if he earns a few starts, or more, this season.
Mark Ingram: RB, New Orleans Saints
Sean Gardner/Getty Images
Currently the New Orleans Saints have an array of RBs, but unfortunately, injuries as well.
Chris Ivory (hernia), may start the year on the PUP list, Pierre Thomas (ankle) has been prone to injury in the past, and now rookie Mark Ingram from Alabama (knee) is starting off slow.
In order for Ingram to increase his confidence, as well as his coaches, before the regular season begins, playing well in the preseason finale is vital.
And especially with the high-flying offense that's led by QB Drew Brees, having a stud RB in the backfield will be needed.
Mark Ingram has a potential to really make some noise as a rookie RB in The Big Easy, so here's to hoping he can remain healthy.
Da'Quan Bowers: DE, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Peter Aiken/Getty Images
With the knee issues Da'Quan Bowers has suffered from, it's no surprise why he dropped into the second round of the NFL Draft.
Obviously that means there's less pressure on him, but now he can use that as added motivation to play out of his mind.
For starters, the Bucs have a young defense that is expected to really breakout this season.
If Bowers wants any piece of that action to contribute, he must dominate in Tampa's final preseason game.
He's on the cusp of earning a starting role, but Da'Quan must show that the knee is no longer an issue.
Otherwise, he may not see as much playing time as expected.
Cam Newton: QB, Carolina Panthers
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
Right now it appears that Cam Newton is going to be the Carolina Panthers' starting QB for the regular season.
Jimmy Clausen remains his only competition, but Newton has performed well enough thus far to earn another preseason start.
That being said, if he doesn't continue that consistent streak, we may see Clausen leap-frog him before the opening kickoff in Week 1.
If the coaches want a reason to believe that they can enter the real season with a rookie QB, who still has some mechanical kinks to work out, Cam must give them one.
If not, then Jimmy Clausen may get the start, which would be a heart-breaker for Newton as he would have started the final three preseason games, only to see it slip away.
He controls his own destiny, so it's up to him to get the job done.
Justin Houston: DE/OLB, Kansas City Chiefs
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images
One of the better LBs coming out of college, Justin Houston was a beast for the University of Georgia.
However, he's still somewhat under the radar, which right now is a double-edged sword.
Make no mistake about it, Houston can be a very solid contributor to the K.C. defense this season, but he has the potential to be an even bigger impact if he takes his game to another level.
Early in training camp is when you want to be under the radar, because at that point, no one is expecting you to really do anything.
However by the end, if you're on the brink of sitting the bench and starting, well, at that moment it's either go big or go home.
Houston needs to seize this opportunity in front of him, because without him the Chiefs are still a solid defensive team.
What he must realize is that he can make them significantly better.
Once Justin does that, he'll perform better, in turn making the coaches realize how much better he makes the defense.
Torrey Smith: WR, Baltimore Ravens
Rob Carr/Getty Images
Now that the Ravens' have acquired veteran WR Lee Evans from Buffalo, it almost appears that rookie Torrey Smith (Maryland) is being put on the back-burner.
He hasn't been targeted too many times this preseason, which in turn, means he doesn't have very many catches.
Ultimately, Smith wasn't too productive from the start, Baltimore panicked somewhat, then acquired Lee Evans, who's a similar WR.
He runs deep routes very well, he's fast, quick, and can catch almost anything.
Only difference here is that Evans is already an established NFL WR, whereas Smith needs to work his way up.
If Torrey wants any part of what's expected to be an exciting year in Baltimore, he has no choice but to excel in their final preseason game.
Colin Kaepernick: QB, San Francisco 49ers
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
It seems that 49ers' QB Alex Smith has been in the hot-seat for a while.
Maybe it's the Bay Area holding him to such a high standard, because after all, Joe Montana and Steve Young are both enshrined in Canton, OH.
Smith has been flaky his entire career, opening the door for rookie after rookie. Problem is, all have been worse off than Alex Smith.
Rookie Colin Kaepernick (Nevada) has more potential than any other rookie that has played with Smith, and he's played well enough this preseason to catch some attention.
And now with a new head coach in Jim Harbaugh, who know's a good NFL QB when he sees one, don't discount Kaepernick just because he's a rookie.
Alex Smith has had his chances (multiple in fact), and the rookie from Nevada has one game left to really showcase his talent.
If all goes well, it would be reasonable to expect Kaepernick to earn some solid playing time in 2011.
Be sure to check out John on Bleacher Report.
And you can follow him on Twitter @ Sportswriter27.