Pregame Notes: Steelers at Panthers

By John Ellis

Well, it’s here. The fourth preseason game. Feeling a little preseason fatigue? You may be in luck soon.

According to multiple reports, the league is considering a change in scheduling, including a shortened preseason and an extended playoffs, which would include one extra team per conference. We tend to agree with this move in principle, as the preseason seems to have run its course a bit with most coaches and personnel staff around the league. Teams are playing starters less frequently with each passing year, as has been the case in Carolina this preseason. 

As for this evening’s Panthers/Steelers tilt, very few starters will see action. It will likely be a  rather vanilla affair. However, there are still a few stories to follow:

All Eyes On Slye

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A number of reports out of Charlotte today have suggested that Panthers kicker Graham Gano will begin the 2019 season on injured reserve. That leaves him eligible to return to action at the halfway-point of the regular season, clearing the way for undrafted rookie Joey Slye from Virginia Tech. We liked Slye from the first time we saw him kick in Spartanburg, noting over two weeks ago that he seems to get a lot of height on his deep kicks. This is a great asset when looking to avoid blocks. He’s also been perfect in the preseason, nailing home 6-of-6 with a 55-yarder. A touchdown-fruitful game for Carolina would be a positive for Slye—and fans of course—as this would give the rookie kicker a chance to hone his skills on extra points. Carolina has scored limited touchdowns in the preseason, and the PAT has been a bit of an issue for the Panthers since 2015: Gano has missed a league-high 12 PAT attempts over that span. It’s a big night for Slye and special teams coach Chase Blackburn.

RB3 Battle

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Jordan Scarlett. Elijah Holyfield. Reggie Bonnafon. These three guys are on the bubble with presumably one spot left to grab in the running back rotation. Our projection puts veteran back Cameron Artis-Payne second on the depth chart behind the all-world Christian McCaffrey. Unless the team feels like keeping four HB’s, which they won’t, one spot is up for grabs. We feel the edge goes to Scarlett at this point, coming off a pair of strong performances against New England and Buffalo. Holyfield has been relatively silent since his two-touchdown debut at Chicago in week one of the preseason. And while we do like Bonnafon for his versatility and ball skills out of the backfield, the lack of reps during camp and with the second-team in the preseason leads us to believe the team will probably move in a different direction.

The Nickel Spot

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The nickel position has been hotly contested throughout the summer. The leader in the clubhouse still appears to be Javien Elliott, but it’s a close race. Second-year defensive back Corn Elder had a solid camp and has seen extensive playing time at nickel this preseason. In terms of their big nickel package, otherwise known as “buffalo” nickel, look for one-time starting free safety Rashaan Gaulden to continue in this role. We still like Elliott long-term for the starting nickel roll. He showed the most athleticism and coverage ability in Spartanburg, and has the pertinent experience from his time in Tampa last year to come in and manage the role.