Panthers at Bears: The OPP Pre-Game Six Pack

By John Ellis

Breathe easy fans, for your long national nightmare ends tonight at 8 p.m. Football is back.

The Carolina Panthers, coming off a fine fortnight of training camp execution, are in the Windy City this evening for a preseason premiere against the formidable Chicago Bears.

As expected, Cam Newton will sit tonight’s game out in Chicago as second-year backup Kyle Allen gets another start at quarterback. Many of you vividly recall Allen’s last live game action, an impressive performance against the Saints’ starting defense in Carolina’s season finale win at New Orleans.

Third-round draft pick Will Grier will see considerable work tonight as well.

Here’s a One Panther Place Six Pack to wet your pre-game whistle—six guys on our radar for the Panthers tonight:

1. Elijah Holyfield: fellow rookie RB Jordan Scarlett is out tonight. It’s a fortuitous development for the undrafted rookie from Georgia, a dependable pass catcher and  hard worker. I stood in awe on Tuesday watching Holyfield haul in passes from the Jugs machine 30 minutes after the media and players dispersed from the practice fields. Scarlett’s hands have been suspect, at best, in the passing game–coupled with his current seat in the training room, his counterpart Holyfield finds himself in a good spot. I want to see how he looks in pass protection and if his power running prowess during his SEC days translates to the next level.

2. Javien Elliott: it’s anybody’s guess as to which of the three contending defensive backs will see the most reps at nickel back against the Bears. Elliott is a tough-nosed scrapper inside, tough on the jam and sticky in coverage. He picked off Newton a few days ago and had a great PBU on DJ Moore. Corn Elder is making up ground of late. The second-year cornerback sat down in a zone and waited for slot WR Jarius Wright to make a break on his signature pivot route. Elder timed the play nicely, jumping the route for a somewhat generous interception on this questionable decision by Newton. Cole Luke will see reps at nickel as well.

3. Kyle Allen: he and Grier have each shown flashes at camp, but Allen still strikes me as the most capable of the two for this offense—at this moment. While Allen has game experience as a starter (putting up a stellar first half against the Saints’ formidable starting defense last year), Grier still looks like an incomplete product at times. It’s improving, but early on, Grier tended to rush through his reads, abandoning the play prematurely and opting for a scramble. This is commonplace, even among first-round rookie signal callers, so it’s no cause for panic. Allen looks to be just a shade more commanding of the offense, routes and reads thus far.

4. Ross Cockrell: he continues to get the first team reps at free safety, while newly signed Tre Boston continues to ramp back up into the system. It’s too early to tell if Boston will take over the role full-time, as likely intended, but Cockrell isn’t giving up on his chance at redemption after breaking his leg last summer here in Spartanburg. I will say this: Cockrell does look lost at times in coverage. He has the requisite size and quickness to excel, but I noticed Cockrell getting mixed-up on a post corner route to tight end Greg Olsen this week. A free safety can’t lose sight of those incoming routes. Boston hasn’t made any “splash” plays thus far, but he’s been solid, almost mistake-free in his run fits and coverages. My money is still on Boston to be your week one starter alongside strong safety Eric Reid, while Cockrell—who will likely make the team, regardless—may be moved back to corner, given his experience and the team’s lack of depth at LCB and RCB (nickel corner, again, appears to be: Elliott/Elder/Cole Luke).

5. Jermaine Carter: With the absence of Kuechly in Chicago, Jermaine Carter gets the nod at MLB. Carter, the second-year product from Maryland, has flashed with his increased workload. On Sunday, Carter came up big with a PBU on the team’s best pass catcher, D.J. Moore. Carter–who measures in at 6-0, 225—lacks the size you’d want from Kuechly inside against the run game, but he flashes with safety-like quickness and good instincts in coverage. The play against Moore was man coverage on one of the league’s toughest young receivers to blanket. Carter appeared in all of Carolina’s 16 games in 2018, registering 13 tackles, one for a loss.

6. Damion Jeanpiere: 83 is worth watching. The undrafted rookie has blazing speed on the outside, and as we have chronicled at camp, he has run consistent routes and caught almost everything thrown his way. He’s a sleeper, but don’t sleep on this guy. The Nicholls State product clocked a 4.25 40 at his pro day and has wowed observers with his burst. I like the effort, the speed, and his attitude. Keeping him on our radar.

We will be live on Twitter all night with all the latest from Panthers v Bears: http://twitter.com/onepantherplace.

Full recap tonight here at onepantherplace.com and on tomorrow’s OnePantherPodcast.