Tough Decisions

Spots are on the line in the pre-season finale

As the Panthers wrap-up the pre-season with a home game against Cleveland Friday night, there will plenty on the line for a number of players in high-profile spots. In the defensive backfield, for instance, veteran Jimmy Hitchcock will get the start at left cornerback, taking the spot that Rashard Anderson has been occupying. Coach George Seifert has said clearly this week that this is a spot up for grab.

In the offensive backfield, the question is: which quarterbacks will still be around for the regular season opener at Minnesota? Chris Weinke is a sure thing, but beyond that, it's anybody's guess. Weinke will play the first half against Cleveland, then give way to Dameyune Craig and Matt Lytle in the second half. It would be a surprise to see the Panthers keep four quarterbacks, so the second half performances will likely be the key. Craig has been running with the second unit all week in practice, and, in fact, ran the first team Wednesday when Weinke missed practice to attend his grandfather's funeral.

As for former starter Jeff's unlikely he'll play at all against the Browns. Many believe that the Panthers are waiting to see what kind of veteran signal-caller shows up on the waiver wire Sunday, so they can cut ties with the man in whom the fans, and his teammates, have no confidence. Getting rid of Lewis would represent an $800,000 savings under the cap this year, and $4 million next.

Running back is another intriguing spot. Tshimanga Biakabutuka has been less than impressive when he has held onto the ball. There's been enough trouble with that first part. But, the man who was brought in to put some heat on Biakabutuka, Richard Huntley, has spent the bulk on the pre-season on the sidelines with a hamstring problem and will not play again this week. Brad Hoover, who grabbed the spotlight in a Monday Night win over Green Bay last year, will see his first action Friday after also being sidelined with a hamstring problem.

Meanwhile, those injuries, along with one to Dee Brown, have provided opportunities to Nick Goings and Chad Dukes, both of whom have grabbed their respective chances with gusto. So, the Panthers are now faced with a problem on cutdown day, do they cut ties with Huntley and/or Hoover (whom they have seen little of in the pre-season) in favor of Goings and Dukes? Or do they go with guys who are higher in the proven commodity department?

Any way you look at it, there are some pretty good storylines awaiting this club in their final exhibition game...and for the few days after.

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