Questions abound in preseason debut

Another preseason is upon us, which means two things. For one, the long wait is over, and the post DeShaun Foster/Mike Rucker/Dan Morgan era has begun. For another, the football played on the field will bear no resemblance to what fans will see in the true season opener. But at least it will look like pro football, and that is all fans care about for now.

For the Panthers, this year's preseason begins with an interconference matchup with the Indianapolis Colts, one of two teams that has more or less dominated the NFL landscape this decade. Much like the Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers dominated before the NFL instituted the salary cap, it is the Colts and New England Patriots who have emerged as the dominant forces in the cap era.

Of course, that will mean little in a game where starters will shake hands, exchange a few unpleasantries in the first quarter, then spend the rest of the game holding their helmets and joking around with teammates.

What can Panthers fans glean from this game? The answer is not much that will be relevant to the season opener, but plenty for right now.

How will Jake Delhomme look in his first action since injuring his right elbow in Week Three at Atlanta a year ago? Who will he throw to?

Will the Panthers running game look like the 2003 running attack that carried the Panthers into February, or will it look broken before October?

What will the defense look like? Will the defensive line be able to get pressure on the quarterback?

The first preseason game is probably most important for the Panthers revamped offensive line. Sturdy vets Jordan Gross and Travelle Wharton will anchor the left side, but what about the right side? Different combinations take different amounts of time to gel. With second year pro Ryan Kalil at center, how long will it take this group? Will Jeff Otah be worth all that the Panthers gave up for him?

The Panthers have been one of the NFL's most successful teams in the preseason under head coach John Fox. Look for that trend to continue. But also look for the game within the game. The Colts, even without star quarterback Peyton Manning, offer a great first test for a team with a lot of question marks. After all, they have built one of the NFL's model franchises. The Panthers are looking to see how they stack up against the best so that they can return to Spartanburg and get back to work.

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