The competition for the starting defensive end position was expected to be one of the hardest fought battles in Carolina Panthers' training camp. The two favorites entering the preseason was Frank Alexander and Kony Ealy however through training camp and the first preseason game both were underperforming.
The battle completely changed Saturday night against the Miami Dolphins when Alexander went down with a torn Achilles and the job is now Ealy’s to lose. He also had a strong game against the Dolphins, finishing with a strip sack and two tackles.
This will be a great opportunity for Ealy to cement his name in the starting lineup with a strong performance against the Patriots offense. The Panthers will be facing some of Tom Brady and the best way to beat Brady is to get a consistent pass rush on him.
The first-round rookie linebacker was one player that I highlighted before the Dolphins game because it would be his first chance to get live game action. He made a good first impression with a few tackles and a pass breakup on a deep pass to tight end Jordan Cameron.
This is the reason why Thompson is once again a player to be watched in this game, to see how he plays against the pass and one of the best tight ends in the game, Rob Gronkowski. The Panthers tight end has been a dominant player when he is healthy and it will be interesting to see how Thompson does guarding him in the pass game.
The other thing I will be watching for when Thompson is on the field is how he does against the run, particularly if he is able to shed blocks. When I was looking at film of Thompson at the college level, this was one of my concerns with his game. The NFL has much bigger and stronger blockers and it is going to be important for Thompson to get off these blocks and make the tackle.
There is some question about whether or not Tillman will be available for this game as he continues to battle a groin injury. He was forced to sit out against the Dolphins but has been back to practice this week and hopefully will be ready to go Friday night.
The concern with Tillman is the one game that he did play in, against the Buffalo Bills, he struggled a bit. Bills’ quarterback Matt Cassel’s first two throws were thrown in Tillman’s direction and he completed both of them. Now it is understandable that he may be a little rusty due to the fact that he was hurt the second week of the 2014 season and missed the rest of the year.
However, Tillman will need to get on the field this preseason to get back into playing shape and see if he can play at a high level.
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