The Tom Brady Saga continues to play out in the courts but as for what Carolina Panthers will be concerned about is how much playing time do you expect for Brady vs. Jimmy Garoppolo? Do the Patriots give Garoppolo a majority of the snaps with the expectation he will be starting the season as the team's starting quarterback?
Chris: The Patriots will treat this just like they treat every other third preseason game- Brady will play into the third quarter. Bill Belichick is sticking to his “business as usual” mantra, which is smart because it helps to eliminate Deflategate as a distraction. Garoppolo will play in the third and the fourth; he was on fire last week and he showed that he’s ready to go if the Brady suspension is upheld. Third stronger Ryan Lindley hasn’t received any reps yet and probably won’t until next week. One thing to watch for- Brady’s protection, something that has been an issue the 16 snaps he’s been on the field for over the last two weeks.
With the season-ending injury to Kelvin Benjamin, can the Panthers either make do with what they, be forced to sign a veteran, or could they possibly be looking to make a trade?
Brandon: The loss of Benjamin was huge for this offense but I expect them to look in house for a replacement. The team brought in a ton of talent at wide receiver this offseason with Ted Ginn Jr., Jarrett Boykin and the second round pick of Devin Funchess. I get the impression the coaching staff is confident with this group.
The other reason I don't see them looking at free agents or a trade is they don't believe there is anyone available who will match Benjamin's production. I don't think they know yet who will replace Benjamin but they have two more preseason games to figure it out.
How has the Patriots secondary looked this preseason? The team lost their two starting cornerbacks in the offseason (Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner) and that certainly is not something that can easily be fixed.
Chris: The secondary has had flashes of being good but has also had a few brain cramps. They seem to be back to the “bend but don’t break” philosophy, which works for them because they defend the red zone so well. Super Bowl hero Malcolm Butler has taken over the left corner position vacated by Darrelle Revis, and he’s looked excellent in practices and games. Free agent pickup Tarell Brown, who is expected to start, should also be in the lineup Friday night.
One player that Panther fans know well, nickel corner and ex-Falcon Robert McClain, has looked very good and a strong replacement for Kyle Arrington, another cornerback that was released in the offseason. Patriot’s fans are hoping Devin McCourty is moved back to free safety this week after a rough return to corner last week. Belichick always tinkers in preseason, but if McCourty is at corner again, something is up.
How has the addition of Charles Tillman affected the Panthers secondary? The Carolina defense is stout, and I'm interested to hear how he fits in.
Brandon: A healthy Charles Tillman would be an excellent fit for this defense. He has experience in Ron Rivera's defense and allows the team to move Bene Benwikere inside to nickel, where he is better suited to play.
The question is can he stay healthy. He has missed 22 games the past two seasons with a triceps injury and has already missed a preseason game this year with a groin injury. Tillman at this point is a big question mark but the Panthers don't have many other options. They are going to have to roll the dice and hope Tillman stays healthy.
Who is one player on the Patriots that Panthers fans should know about before the start of the game and keep an eye out for?
Chris: Rookie defensive tackle Malcom Brown is getting every opportunity to win a starting job and he’s been impressive so far, collapsing the pocket against the pass, defending the run and even making hustle tackles downfield to stop a long run. The Patriots never expected him to fall to 32 and he was the player they wanted, which is ironic because that is the same thing that happened in 2004 when Vince Wilfork slipped to them. Brown isn’t the same type of player as Wilfork, but he has the potential to provide as big an impact. Watch him and you’ll be stunned that he’s in his first NFL season.
Can Jonathan Stewart continue where he left off last season, his best since 2009? Can he run for over 1,000 yards?
Brandon: Jonathan Stewart was one of the top backs at the end of last year and ran very well. I don't believe there is any question about if Stewart can rush for over 1,000 yards. He has all the physical tools to be an excellent back in this league. The uncertainty lies in whether or not he can stay healthy for a full season.
The Panthers are going to want to rely on the run game this year, especially with Benjamin out for the year. Stewart will have plenty of chances this year to eclipse that 1,000 yard mark. Hopefully he will be able to stay healthy to capitalize on them.