Panthers ready for "last-chance saloon"

Cam Newton played one series against Jacksonville on Thursday night, and threw a touchdown pass. (John Raoux)

At this point, just about every NFL fan is dying for the real games to start, thinking, "Just get me to the regular season already!" Even though we're still over a week away, that's actually good news for the Panthers who are treating quarterback Cam Newton with kid gloves.

While Newton won't play against the Steelers Thursday night, you can still watch the game on ABC11 at 7:30.

So, officially Newton only participated in one series this preseason. That gets us to what to watch for during the game.

Is DA still the number two?
- Derek Anderson has been entrenched as Newton's backup since 2011. It's likely he'll carry that role forward; however, his performance over the previous two exhibitions leaves a lot to be desired. Anderson was 10/19 for 66 yards and one interception last week in Jacksonville - not good. Joe Webb didn't play while nursing a sore shoulder. Yet, Webb will be back in Thursday's game and with a sliver of door open he could burst through.

Starters to sit
- There is no reason to roll anyone who Ron Rivera thinks will be a major contributor in '17 out there against Pittsburgh. You could argue corner Daryl Worley should be getting extra work. He's looked shaky at best getting burned twice by the Jaguars. Maybe it's better to see what Zack Sanchez and Corn Elder can do.

Last hurrah for many
- There are a bunch of guys who haven't played much over the first three games. Now it's their time to shine! Rivera says he's looking to see who can make plays under the bright lights when it counts. That means you, Zeek Bigger and Ben Boulware. The two youngster linebackers are both long shots to make the final 53. On Saturday, the roster will be trimmed from 90 and all the fringe guys have one last night to stand out.

Wide receivers
- This has been a topic all summer. One advantage of having the cut date pushed back is competition. Rivera thinks top to bottom the group of wideouts at camp is the best he's had around. Well, not all of them can stay. Damiere Byrd, the guy we all anointed into the Hall of Fame in week one, is on the bubble. So, is Trevor Graham and Brenton Bersin. Thursday's game is critical for all of the above.

Kickers...again
- Still not sexy, but important. NFL teams don't make a habit of drafting place kickers. Carolina did taking Harrison Butker in the seventh round out of Georgia Tech. He's been toe-to-toe (see what I did there?) with incumbent Graham Gano all through camp. One miss could spell doom for either guy.

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