With quarterback Cam Newton and the rest of the Carolina Panthers’ starters expected to play sparingly – if at all – Thursday night in the final exhibition against Pittsburgh, the game will be more important to a number of second- and third-teamers trying to claim a roster spot. Here are five to keep an eye on:
Quarterback Jimmy Clausen
This could potentially be the final game in a Panthers uniform for their second-round pick from 2010. Though Clausen has had a solid preseason, he hasn’t taken a regular-season snap since his rookie year. During Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman’s last five seasons in New York, the Giants kept only two quarterbacks on their roster. Clausen figures to get a lot of snaps behind No. 2 Derek Anderson against the Steelers, and could help his cause with a strong showing.
Running back Armond Smith
Given the injury situation in the backfield, reserve running backs Tauren Poole and Smith suddenly are a DeAngelo Williams ankle sprain away from being the starter. Smith might have an edge on Poole for the final running back spot because of his special teams value. But he can’t afford to have any more incidents like last week, when he kicked a Baltimore linebacker in the groin after the two got tangled up following a Smith rush.
Offensive lineman Chris Scott
The 6-foot-4, 315-pound guard – a training camp pickup after he failed his conditioning test and was released by Buffalo – gets a final chance to prove he belongs in the offensive line rotation. With Travelle Wharton re-joining the Panthers this week, Scott likely won’t be a starter unless Garry Williams struggles and Amini Silatolu’s hamstring injury lingers.
Safety Haruki Nakamura
A year ago at this time, Nakamura was preparing for his first season as a starter after backing up Ed Reed for four seasons in Baltimore. Nakamura is in a reduced role this year after struggling in 2012. But he’s been the first safety off the bench in the exhibitions, and – barring any coverage lapses – should secure a spot as a backup and special teams regular.
Defensive tackle Sione Fua
Besides Newton, Fua is only the other member of the Panthers’ 2011 draft still on the active roster (receiver Kealoha Pilares went on injured reserve this week). The third-round pick from Stanford is a cerebral player who’s played a lot this preseason. And the Panthers’ decision to waive/injured Frank Kearse this week only helped Fua’s positioning.
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