Friday, Carolina kicks off the preseason again against the Buffalo Bills. A year has past, but do the same questions linger for the Carolina Panthers? What will Panther coaches hope to learn from this match?
Buffalo, much like the Panthers, has a defensive oriented team that hopes for offensive opportunism. New head coach Rex Ryan will certainly bring the conservative approach he implemented in New York to Buffalo Friday night. Expect a run heavy offense which expects the defense to win the positional chess match. This opponent will most test Carolina’s run defense, the offensive line, and the special teams.
Buffalo was the center of attention during free agency when they brought in LeSean McCoy in a high profile trade with Chip Kelly’s Eagles. We know Rex Ryan loves to pound the rock, but don't expect to see too much of McCoy or Fred Jackson who is suffering from a strained hamstring. Buffalo will give Karlos Williams a long look Friday, which based on sheer volume will quickly help get a understanding of Carolina's run defense in lieu of Star Lotulelei's prolonged foot injury and a limited Kawaan Short. Watch to see where Kony Ealy lines up most and the effectiveness of veterans Dwan Edwards and Colin Colin in slowing the Bills rush attack.
Buffalo’s defensive style strongly represents Carolina’s: disrupt with the front four, which creates opportunities for the linebackers and secondary to create turnovers and suffocate offensive momentum. Throw in a little Ryan defensive aggressiveness, and Carolina will need to be solid up front fend of this tenacious pressure. Expect Carolina’s coaching staff to closely evaluating the offensive tackle position against this type of opponent. Uncertainty surrounds Michael Oher, and the Panthers need to see what type of depth follows a guy who many don’t believe can hack it in the first place. This examination, however, won’t be limited to the left tackle position alone. The staff will look closely at Mike Remmers to see if he can replicate last year’s success consistently. Expect 4th Round Pick, Darryl Williams, to see significant snaps. He’s a guy many believe will supplant Remmers and could even be the best option at left tackle. I'm also curious to see who outside of Michael Oher, Nate Chandler, and David Foucault.
It was the greatest weakness of last season’s team. General Manager Dave Gettleman's primary objective this offseason was to turn around the special teams unit, which ranked second worst in the NFL Head Coach Ron Rivera first replaced Special Teams Coach, Richard Rodgers, with a more seasoned Bruce DeHaven. Bringing back Tedd Ginn, Jr and adding special teams aces, Jordan Todman and Teddy Williams, Gettleman sought to create a faster more reliable unit. Having Ginn back alone take the worry of Brensin Bersin returning punts. Both Fozzie Whitaker and Damiere Byrd have seen significant time returning kickoffs throughout camp. Look for Carolina to continue to evaluate who can assist Ginn in creating a more potent return game.
Clearly, Carolina will be evaluating all phases of the game. Other questions loom, such as see if Kurt Coleman will continue to outmaneuver a younger Tre Boston or who will survive the bubble out of Brenton Bersin, Jarrett Boykin, and Damiere Byrd? Buffalo's strengths, however, will most dictate what is most tested of the more concerning elements of Carolina's roster. It's a match-up that directly tests some of the more dubious aspects of this Panthers team.
By the Professor, aka Tony Dunn
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