PI's Preseason Blog: Aug. 28

The Carolina Panthers will engage in their most complete preseason tune-up when they host the Tennessee Titans on Saturday. The starters will play into the second half, but it is a non-starter who is under the most pressure to deliver.

Time to LaRise Up

Aug. 28, 12:00 a.m.

WR Brandon LaFell
Chuck Burton/AP
There are several players in dire need of a good showing on Saturday against the Tennessee Titans, perhaps none more so than rookie Brandon LaFell. The third-round pick out LSU has just one catch this preseason and must do something to stand out and earn his place in the rotation.

LaFell's struggles have all but guaranteed a roster spot for Dwayne Jarrett, who was a fringe player at the outset of training camp. Jarrett leads the team with four receptions so far this preseason and is likely to be the opening-day starter opposite Steve Smith.

LaFell, then, may be battling for the No. 3 receiver job with third-year receiver Kenny Moore, who leads the team with 51 receiving yards through two games.

If LaFell cannot beat out Jarrett and/or Moore, he may be resigned to being the No. 4 receiver, which would be a huge disappointment for a player many had penciled into a starting position.

To get his arrow pointed upward, LaFell must do a better job of hanging on to tough catches in traffic. If he can do that, he should post the first multi-catch game of his pro career. If he can score Carolina's first offensive TD of the preseason in the process, all the better.

For more on LaFell, check out this inside scouting report.

Right the Ship

Aug. 27, 7:50 a.m.

OT Jeff Otah
Chuck Burton/AP
Carolina's offense has struggled this preseason, ranking last in yards per game. One reason is the inconsistent play of the O-line, which has struggled to generate movement and handle exotic fronts.

Help could be on the way in the form of Jeff Otah, Carolina's 2008 first-round pick who is still on the mend from a knee injury that cost him the last three games of the 2009 season.

Otah had his knee scoped earlier this month and the Panthers remain hopeful he will return in time for the season-opener against the New York Giants.

The insertion of Otah may not be the only change on the offensive line, as second-year guard Duke Robinson still has plans of unseating Mackenzy Bernadeau, who has run first-string throughout the offseason and shown well. Nonetheless, Robinson has the potential to be a dominant run blocker on an offense that will clearly have to lean hard on the run.

Robinson may get a chance to run with the No. 1s in one of the next two preseason games as offensive line coach Dave Magazu looks for a combination that can drive the offense out of the statistical cellar.

Saving Something Special

Aug. 26, 3:50 p.m.

FS Marcus Hudson
Nick Wass/AP
The Carolina Panthers will have to make a few tough roster decisions that will pit youth against experience. Making those decisions even more challenging is the fact they will impact more than one phase of the game.

The Panthers have three special-teams specialists currently on the bubble: WR Wallace Wright, SS Aaron Francisco and FS Marcus Hudson. Each of those three players would be a superb addition to the coverage teams, yet each player would prevent the Panthers from carrying a gifted rookie at a skill position.

Wright signed with the Panthers hoping to carve out a role on offense, but it is clear that will not happen this season. He could still survive because of his ability to chase down kick returners, but that may cost the offense a talented youngster like David Gettis, Dexter Jackson or Charly Martin.

Francisco and Hudson are also on the roster for their third-phase contributions. The Panthers showed neither player figures heavily into the defensive plans when rookie Jordan Pugh got the start at safety in place of Sherrod Martin (groin) in Saturday's game against the New York Jets.

Carolina will likely keep Francisco or Hudson, just to have a fourth safety to round out the depth chart. But whoever stays will take the place of a defensive back who was part of this year's draft class, either Robert McClain and/or R.J. Stanford, two players with bright futures at the harder-to-fill cornerback position.

Talk about the upcoming season of Panthers Football inside the message boards.

Michael Lombardo is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and also a long-time contributor to the Scout.com network. His analysis has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports and MySpace Sports.

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