PRE-SEASON PREDICTIONS: Rookies will struggle, Cam finally gets help

- Who is going to show up Friday? The Carolina Panthers or the shadow of what this team could be? Many still don’t know what to expect out of a team that plays in the NFL’s toughest division, but a visit from Tom Brady and the defending AFC Champion New England Patriots will give us a clearer vision of this team’s future. Here’s what I think will happen in Friday’s pre-season game.

STARTERS TO MAKE ADJUSTMENTS

We’ve made it to the dress rehearsal. Head Coach Ron Rivera has made it clear that most of the Panthers starters will play into the third quarter and I have a feeling he will most likely stick to that plan. Current plans call for the starters to get to halftime, make adjustments, then play a series or two in order to put said adjustments into work.

While this is how most NFL teams roll in the third pre-season game, the Pats most likely won’t stick to this formula. Bill Belichick isn’t the most conventional NFL head coach but he gets results. This will create the opportunity for Rivera to make changes he normally wouldn’t in a regular season game. It’s going to be interesting to see which players react to tweaks they’re not used to.

THE KIDS WILL STRUGGLE, BUT THEY WILL LEARN

The injury bug has bit Carolina and that’s forcing some young talent into action. The two that people are gravitating to: Donte Jackson and Rashaan Gaulden. Both want the spotlight and will get a shot to steal the show against the best quarterback in NFL history (Yeah, I said it. Go ahead and @ me twitterverse).

Jackson is already getting first team reps because of the Ross Cockrell injury. Gaulden has a similar opportunity to steal a safety spot because Da’Norris Searcy got knocked out of the pre-season game against Miami.  It’s no secret that quarterbacks love throwing downfield against the Panthers. Expect Brady and Brian Hoyer to do the same, and get major yardage. Even with a steady James Bradberry on the other side of Jackson, there will still be growing pains for the cornerback position. In two pre-season games, I feel Jackson is playing off the receiver too far and defensive coordinator Eric Washington will want to get more bodies on opposing receivers.

Friday will prove to be a make or break point for Gaulden but he won’t be in this alone. Veteran Mike Adams says he needs to step up as a leader and coaching the third round pick from Tennessee will be a true test of that statement.

CAM NEWTON WILL FINALLY GET HIS PROTECTION

Remember that injury bug we were talking about? The offensive line has been bit the most. Three of the five starters protecting Cam Newton are currently out. Ron Rivera says it’s not time to hit the panic switch nor hit the waiver wire. I think he’s right.

Many of you forget that Greg Olsen, Ian Thomas and Alex Armah are there to block as well. Armah has had one of the best pre-seasons in all of the NFL, while Ian Thomas is picking up the speed of the NFL game quickly. Expect Rivera to adjust his game plan to give these guys more of a defensive role rather than heading downfield. Going back to the line itself… don’t get me wrong. Subs like Taylor Moten, Greg Van Roten and Jeremiah Sirles are serviceable. In fact, Moten is playing as if he is the heir apparent. If there is one thing the Panthers have done right, its coaching their young talent to be ready for opportunity. 

What do you think will happen on Friday? Do you think I’m wrong? Let me know @TheEpicAudi on twitter.

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