1. Offensive line: Of all the questions, this one figures to remain a topic every single week of the preseason for the Carolina Panthers. After the first preseason game, we heard neither strongly positive or strongly negative views of the offensive line’s performance. That’s not necessarily a bad thing as we approach second game of the preseason, but the same questions from week one remain relevant for Sunday. The play of Byron Bell and Nate Chandler will be still be monitored as the lack of experience across the line continues to remain the biggest problem up front. Amini Silatolu looked fine coming back from the torn ACL, but it will be essential to the team’s long-term success that he continues to move in an upward trajectory. Trai Turner looked fine, but is the rookie too inexperienced to expect consistent and solid performances against top-notch NFL defensive ends? With increased playing time looming these next two weeks, let’s hope we can at least determine which direction the answers to these questions appear to be leaning.
2. Cam Newton is back: “Superman” returns and he is armed with his brand new weapon, Mr. Kelvin Benjamin. Although the presence of the franchise quarterback serves as more of a teaser for what is to come during the regular season; it should be interesting to see if he can connect with the dazzling rookie during his brief time on the field. The expectations/hopes for Cam should be the all-important avoidance of any type of injury, along with appearing to knock off any rust that will assuredly be there after a long offseason. Anything else is just icing on the cake–although a long touchdown pass to a leaping Benjamin would make his return that much more satisfying in the eyes of the Carolina faithful.
3. Starters figure to see more time: The somnolent nature of the preseason can wear on even the most devoted fan; which is why the prospect of witnessing increased playing time for the starters should be a welcome sign to everyone. Playing time will obviously vary across the board, and it will be interesting to see how the coaching staff allocates reps to the starters on Sunday night. Perhaps most importantly, this means no more Matt Blanchard. That may be the greatest silver-lining of them all as Sunday rapidly approaches.
4. Closer examination of the play of Kony Ealy: After not hearing much about Ealy throughout camp, we got our fair share of exposure to the rookie defensive end on Friday night. Via “Pro Football Focus,” Ealy played more than any of the Panthers’ other defensive ends, which lead them to remark about the rookie from Mizzou, “With Greg Hardy playing on the franchise tag, thoughts rightfully turn to the future of the position for the Panthers there’s no doubt the team hopes Ealy proves himself worthy of a spot in the rotation sooner than later. If his initial performance is an indication, carving out a role as an early-down option shouldn’t be too much to ask.” Monitoring Ealy in the preseason should give us not only a glimpse of what he can provide the team this season, but what he can provide them in the future as well.
5. The Return Game: The realization that this team truly misses Ted Ginn Jr. is both an odd and a depressing one. But, after witnessing Kenjon Barner get shutout on punts and Kealoha Pilares fail to reach the 20-yard on two kickoff returns, it was clear this team is going to miss the big-play potential that they possessed when Ginn was on their roster. It doesn’t matter what the source of productivity in the return game is, as long as they can find and maintain some level of competency in that department. Will the two mentioned above simply rebound and prove they can solidify their respective jobs, or will the Panthers need to aggressively seek out other options? That figures to be a pressing question going in to Sunday night.