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Three days after the Panthers saw top wideout Kelvin Benjamin suffer a season-ending knee injury, defensive end Frank Alexander had to be helped off the field just four plays into Saturday’s preseason game with the Dolphins. Shortly after, he was carted to locker room with what was announced as an injury to his right ankle.
Even though Alexander spent most of the week at practice with the second- or third-team defense, he got the start across from Kony Ealy. With Charles Johnson, Carolina’s only dependable defensive end, out again with a sore calf, the Panthers desperately need someone, anyone to stand out. If Alexander’s injury is serious, it will take out the guy coaches were hoping would eventually grab hold of the second starting spot.
That’s Not Just a Swagger
Quarterback Cam Newton appeared to be walking gingerly on his right leg during the second half. Newton’s final play was a sprint toward the pylon that came up short on a 4th-and-goal midway through the second quarter.
He watched most of the final two quarters sitting on the bench, which is unusual for Newton. But he was chatting and joking with teammates, and it won’t be surprising if he plays coy about any sort of injury postgame.
They Come in Bunches, Apparently
A few plays before Newton’s 4th-down try, center Ryan Kalil was rolled up on in a pile near the goal line. He stayed in but then went to a knee as he was walking off the field after the drive ended. Trainers eventually wrapped ice around Kalil’s left knee, and sideline reporter Jordan Gross mentioned it was a knee sprain during the broadcast.
Kalil went to the locker room shortly before the end of the half and it didn’t look like he came out to watch any of the second half.
Also in that series near the goal line, tight end Richie Brockel suffered a left shoulder sprain.
Another Unimpressive Start
A week after the first-team offense gained just one first down in its first two drives against the Bills, the Panthers began Saturday’s game with two straight three-and-outs.
Just like in Buffalo, things started to click in the third drive. Unlike last week, it didn’t end with a touchdown. Instead, the 14-play, 79-yard drive ended a yard short.
In two preseason games, the first-team offense has scored one touchdown in six drives. That was scored by Benjamin.
Rave Reviews About the Rookies
While there will be plenty of hand-wringing coming out of this one, at least some of the rookies provided some good moments.
First-round linebacker Shaq Thompson, who was held out against the Bills, made a great open-field tackle on Miami running back Lamar Miller and then knocked a pass away from tight end Jordan Cameron 40 yards downfield.
Fifth-round running back Cameron Artis-Payne saw snaps ahead of Fozzy Whittaker and Jordan Todman and finished with 33 yards on four carries. His 29-yard run through a huge hole on the left side of the line was the Panthers’ biggest play of the night.
Undrafted free agent Brandon Wegher followed up his impressive debut with a pair of touchdowns. He snuck past defenders for a 9-yard touchdown late in the third quarter and then scored the eventual game-winner in the fourth. Chances of him stealing a roster spot continue to increase.
It was a good night for a couple receivers trying to grab one of the last roster spots.
Jarrett Boykin led the Panthers with six receptions for 53 yards while Mike Brown added five for 58. Brenton Bersin, who caught just one pass for 20 yards, is still in good position to stick around a second season, but with Benjamin’s absence creating an opening, Boykin, Brown and Bersin are going to have a good battle down the stretch.
Also, kudos to Damiere Byrd. The undrafted rookie has been solid throughout the spring and summer, and after his 18-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter, he’s nearly assured himself a place on the practice squad.
Sure, it’s just the preseason, but the Panthers are now 2-0 thanks to another fourth-quarter rally led by Joe Webb and this piece of brilliance by defensive tackle Terry Redden.
The win will bring at least a bit of happiness into a locker room that has even more concerns after Saturday night.[line][vc_raw_html]