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3 Things to Watch for Sunday’s Preseason Opener vs Colts – Yardbarker

The Carolina Panthers will kick off their three-game preseason slate on Sunday in Indianapolis as they take on the Colts. Head coach Matt Rhule stated Friday that several starters will not play at all while others will see a few snaps. This will be a big game for guys who are fighting to make the roster and those who are in position battles. 

What are three things that you need to keep your eyes on during the game? We got you covered. 

QB2 Battle: P.J. Walker vs Will Grier

Everyone will have their eyes on this battle even though neither one will have much of a role in the offense. If they do, then either Darnold is injured or he is playing so badly that they are forced to switch things up. Nonetheless, this will be an entertaining battle throughout the preseason. Good teams always have a capable backup that can go into any situation and do whatever is needed to help their team win. Injuries happen all the time in football and if something were to ever happen to Darnold, offensive coordinator Joe Brady will have to turn to one of these two guys. 

P.J. Walker will get the start against his former team and that should come as no surprise considering he was Teddy Bridgewater’s backup a year ago. Will Grier was inactive for the final nine games of the season in 2020 but never really got an opportunity to prove himself. There were no preseason games last year and Rhule felt comfortable with Walker who knows the system in and out and played for Rhule during his time at Temple. Walker has had a better camp but Grier has also made some strides, especially with his accuracy. This won’t be a battle that ends after Sunday. Sam Darnold may not play in next week’s preseason game either and will likely only play a quarter or so in the final preseason matchup. Who gets off to the better start?

RB2 Battle: Reggie Bonnafon vs Chuba Hubbard

Christian McCaffrey is back to 100% and looks like the same dynamic CMC we have become accustomed to seeing. He will get the majority of the carries during the regular season but they do need to be cautious with him and not overwork him. With Mike Davis now in Atlanta, Carolina needs a new backup running back. I’ve said since the moment Chuba Hubbard was drafted in the 4th round out of Oklahoma State that he would be the No. 2 running back. He’s had some bright moments here and there but the veteran, Reggie Bonnafon, has had a solid showing as well. The Colts had the 2nd best run defense a year ago allowing just 90.5 yards per game and 3.7 yards per carry. If either one can have a big day on the ground against this unit, it’ll give them a leg up. And yes, I know the Colts will be resting many of their starters but their two-deep on defense is pretty stout. 

Which rookies could stand out?

With several of the team’s starters not expected to play or to play very little, the rookies will have a chance to get some in-game reps and prove they are deserving of playing time. RB Chuba Hubbard, WR Terrace Marshall Jr., and CB Jaycee Horn are all guys that people are excited to see, and for good reason. But I’m anxious to see what Carolina has in defensive lineman Daviyon Nixon, tight end Tommy Tremble, and right tackle Brady Christensen.

Nixon is a super athletic interior defensive lineman that can put pressure on the quarterback. He has a little more wiggle to him than Derrick Brown, DaQuan Jones, and Bravvion Roy. The Panthers don’t necessarily need sacks from the inside but if someone like Nixon can use his athleticism to push the pocket and flush the quarterback to the outside, it will create more sack opportunities for Brian Burns and Haason Reddick. 

Tommy Tremble is going to be a treat to watch. He is still evolving as a pass-catcher but his blocking ability is why the Panthers brought him to Carolina. Matt Rhule called Chris Manhertz the best blocking tight end in the NFL and with him signing with the Jaguars this offseason, Carolina desperately needed to add some physicality to the room. Ian Thomas and Dan Arnold are going to be concentrated more on the passing game, so Tremble will get on the field in short-yardage situations. 

Finally, can Brady Christensen impress enough to move into a starting role? With Cameron Erving missing some time, Taylor Moton has been taking some reps at left tackle. It might be a good idea to flip Moton over to the left side anyway since he is going to be the best option they have. If they were to do that on a full-time basis, that tells me that Christensen is doing enough to throw him in the lineup. He may not start week one but I’m interested to see how he looks in a live game setting. 

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This article first appeared on FanNation All Panthers and was syndicated with permission.