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Carolina Panthers vs. New England Patriots: Players to Watch on Defense

While the Patriots may not have Tom Brady, this preseason game should be a good test for the Panthers defense Friday night. These are three players on the Panthers defense worth keeping a close eye on in their third preseason game.

Charles Johnson

The Carolina Panthers were able to bring back the veteran defensive end after cutting him in a salary cap move and hope he can rebound off the worst season of his career. In 2015, Johnson only had one regular season sack and didn't really look like the big-time pass rusher he once was. This could have been due to a number of reasons, including a hamstring injury that forced him onto the injured reserve list and made him miss seven games.

However, he has looked rejuvenated this training camp and came in 10 pounds lighter than he did last year. This is also the first year in three seasons that he hasn't had to miss time during the preseason due to injury and could spell a fast start to the season for him.

This game against the New England Patriots will most likely be the most playing time he will see during the preseason and should give him the best chance to get ready for the regular season. It will be interesting to see just how much pressure he can get on Jimmy Garoppolo, who should start for the Patriots.

Shaq Thompson

Thompson is a player who has had a tremendous training camp and preseason so far and looks primed for an excellent sophomore campaign. One of the areas of improvement that has stood out so far is his disruptive play against the pass and appeared to be regularly intercepting Cam Newton during practice.

This game against the Patriots presents a potentially interesting matchup for the second-year linebacker as the team may try to line him up against tight end Rob Gronkowski. The Pro Bowl tight end is a nightmare for defensive coordinators because of the incredibly combination of size and speed. Thompson (6'0", 230 pounds) still gives up some size to Gronkowski (6'6", 265 pounds) but won't be pushed around as much as a cornerback or safety.

Bene Benwikere

Benwikere is coming off an excellent game against the Tennessee Titans, one that included an interception and a sack. The veteran cornerback will want to build off that game as he works his way back from a broken leg last season.

The interesting thing worth watching on Friday night is where he lines up and if the coaching staff gives him some snaps on the outside. The rookie cornerbacks, James Bradberry and Daryl Worley, have been the starters since the start of training camp but this started at first because Benwikere was on the PUP list. This meant that Benwikere was moved inside to nickel when he did return.

However, now that he is back, and with how Benwikere played against the Titans, the coaching staff may want to re-evaluate the position and see how he performs on the outside.

Twitter @BrandonCroce

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