Week 1 Preview: Panthers @ Jaguars

 

week1

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In a week that saw the NFL break more off-the-field news than on, fans and players alike are eager to line up and kick off the 2015 season. And while that was officially done on Thursday night, as the Patriots beat the Steelers 28-21, Carolina will embark on a title-defense of its own tomorrow, against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

 

1995 EXPANSION

On October 26, 1993 – the NFL announced that its owners had unanimously voted for the Carolinas and Jacksonville to receive the 29th and 30th franchises – its first new teams since 1976. While there’s since been a significant re-alignment of structure in 2002, here’s how each have fared since inception:

Panthers Jaguars
Division Titles 5* 2**
Playoff Record 7-6 5-7
Conference Championship Appearances 3 1
Super Bowl Appearances 1 0

*4 within current alignment, 1 NFC West Title (1996).

**Both titles from defunct AFC Central.

 

It’s evident that Carolina has seen the more successful start, but they find themselves limping into this Week 1 matchup – on a day that all records stand even.

 

An offseason that included season-ending injuries to number one wideout Kelvin Benjamin, and vital rotation piece Frank Alexander – the Panthers will look for new faces to take on greater responsibility, no different than standout rookies Bené Benwikere and Tre Boston did in last season’s playoff push.

 

Jacksonville is no stranger to injury woes, having lost two marquee players in Julius Thomas and Dante Fowler Jr.

 

Thomas, a blockbuster free agent acquisition from Denver, fractured his right hand in his first preseason action in Jacksonville, and will miss the first month of the season after a necessary surgery. Fowler, the Jaguars #3 overall pick, suffered a torn ACL in his very first practice following the draft.

 

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

NEW SECONDARY

Free Agent acquisition, Charles Tillman, will lead a revitalized secondary this season [Photo Melissa Melvin-Rodriguez]

Free Agent acquisition, Charles Tillman, will lead a revitalized secondary this season [Photo Melissa Melvin-Rodriguez]

This season’s Week 1 Defense will include only one defensive back who started last season’s opener, in Roman Harper. The other three: Melvin White, Antoine Cason, and Thomas Decoud – have all been released from the team. Until Star Lotulelei returns, the Panthers won’t boast the elite defensive line that they’ve fielded in years past – so this new-look secondary will need to step up if the group plans to return to Top 10 prominence.

RUNNING GAME

Jonathan Stewart breaks away for a 69-yard touchdown run against the Saints. [Photo AP - Bill Feig]

Jonathan Stewart breaks away for a 69-yard touchdown run against the Saints. [Photo AP – Bill Feig]

Over the final 6 weeks of 2014, including playoffs, Jonathan Stewart laid down a stat sheet second to only Marshawn Lynch – and looked on film to be one of the most exciting rushers in the league. Monster games against the Saints, Browns, and Cardinals (in which he rushed for over 120 yards each) led the way to an average of 5.1 yards per carry – and helped propel the Panthers to a division title and playoff berth. If he can pick up where he left off, Stewart has the chance to lead this Carolina offense in a fashion that it desperately needs after losing Kelvin Benjamin. Although Ron Rivera noted this offseason that they’d like to limit him to the neighborhood of 15 carries per game, he’s shown that he still has the ability to take over a series, and they won’t steer away from him if he starts rolling. Look for him to get out to a hot start against a Jaguars defense that gave up an average of 127 yards on the ground last season.

 

The Panthers re-elect their 6 team captains from last season. [Image via Panthers.com]

The Panthers re-elect their 6 team captains from last season. [Image via Panthers.com]

SEASON CAPTAINS

Position – Player (Years of Captainship)

 

QB – Cam Newton (3rd)

TE – Greg Olsen (2nd)

C – Ryan Kalil (3rd)

DE – Charles Johnson (3rd)

LB – Thomas Davis (5th)

LB – Luke Kuechly (3rd)

 

LAST MEETING

On the third week of the 2011 season, Cam Newton & Ron Rivera’s rookie year, the Jaguars traveled to Charlotte for a game that featured a torrential downpour, much like that of the memorable 2013 matchup with the Saints. With the Jaguars in the lead for much of the second half, Cam Newton drove down the field with 4 minutes left to play – and completed both a touchdown pass and 2-point conversion to Greg Olsen, notching his first game-winning drive and first career win in the NFL. The game also featured an incredible catch-and-run by Jonathan Stewart, which was called back – noted here by David Newton.

 

 

You can watch the null-and-void Stewart play here.

 

 

INJURY REPORT

NAME POSITION INJURY WED THURS FRI STATUS
Richie Brockel TE Shoulder DNP DNP DNP Out
Nate Chandler OT Knee LP DNP DNP Out
Ryan

Kalil

C Knee LP LP FP Probable
Josh Norman CB Concussion LP LP FP Probable
Teddy Williams CB Groin FP FP FP Probable

 

Practice Status:

DNP = Did not participate in practice

LP = Limited Participation

FP = Full Participation

(-) = No Practice Status Available

 

Game Status:

Out = Player will not play

D = Doubtful (25% chance a player will play)

Q = Questionable (50% chance a player will play)

P = Probable (75% chance a player will play)

(-) = No player status available

 

 

GAME BROADCASTS

 

TELEVISION

 

FOX (1:00 PM)

Play-by-Play: Chris Myers

Analyst: Ronde Barber

Sideline: Jennifer Hale

 

RADIO FLAGSHIP

 

WBT-AM (1110 AM in Charlotte)

Play-by-Play: Mick Mixon

Analysts: Jim Szoke, Eugene Robinson

Sideline: Jordan Gross

Follow Austin on Twitter @Austallings for Breaking News, Injury Updates, and General Football-oriented Rants.

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Week 1: Practice Update

 Jonathan Stewart leads the running back unit through agility drills. What became a position of worry last season, is one of this year’s deepest groups. Photo courtesy of Panthers.com (Melissa Melvin-Rodriguez)


Jonathan Stewart leads the running back unit through agility drills. What became a position of worry last season, is one of this year’s deepest groups. Photo courtesy of Panthers.com (Melissa Melvin-Rodriguez)

(By Austin Stallings)

CHARLOTTE — 11:30 AM

In the shadow of Bank of America Stadium, the Panthers kick off their final few practices before this season’s first meaningful game action.

Not much has changed from last season’s typical practice routine, except for new faces at each Tackle position, a new secondary, a new band of pass catchers… Oh, and the team now syndicates a high-energy music playlist — laden with hits by Future & Drake — to keep the intensity up during times of transition. This means the Panthers have caught on to a trend that’s been making it’s way around the league for years now, and seems to be well-received by players and coaches alike. Alright, on to football:

(by Austin Stallings)

(Photo: Austin Stallings)

Star Lotulelei will participate today, but again without pads. Making his way to the field with an apparent limp, he’ll likely work out solo as he continues to nurse a foot injury suffered early in Training Camp. Based on how little commitment both he and Ron Rivera have shown to his week 1 availability, don’t expect him to take the field against Jacksonville.  All for the better though, as he holds the key to the Panthers returning a top 10 defensive unit for the fourth consecutive year — and will be needed for the long term.

Ryan Kalil, who injured his knee against the Dolphins, appears to be on track to play Sunday — although there’s no need for him to enter any contact situations until then. As an offensive captain who has anchored the line for years now, the veteran’s status will be paramount if the Panthers have any hope to sustain drives early in the year.

Rookie wide receiver Rookie wide receiver Devin Funchess approached the field in full pads today after battling through a nagging hamstring issue this preseason. Although Ted Ginn and Philly Brown were named the Week 1 starters on Tuesday, look for Funchess to be moved around the field — both on the outside and in the slot — to create mismatches against smaller defensive backs. Being versatile at the receiver position is something the Michigan product has prided himself on throughout the entire draft process.

(Photo: Austin Stallings)

(Photo: Austin Stallings)

Charles Tillman & Josh Norman both donning full pads. While Tillman has already been cleared to play against Jacksonville, Norman still has one more test to pass before he’ll get the green light. Both cornerbacks suffered head injuries in consecutive weeks of preseason action, and both will be vital to the success of the revamped secondary this season.

(Photo: Austin Stallings)

(Photo: Austin Stallings)

Always a great sight to see Jonathan Stewart participating in full pads. He’ll look to complete his first 16-game season since 2011, while seeing the top of the depth chart for the first time in his eight year NFL career.

(Photo: Austin Stallings)

(Photo: Austin Stallings)

After sustaining a combination of calf and neck injuries through Training Camp, Charles Johnson has yet to see the field this preseason. All signs are trending upward though, as he’s been a full participant in practice this week and remains adamant that he will start on Sunday.

Don’t fret upon seeing Kony Ealy without shoulder pads, a team intern followed closely behind carrying the rest of his gear. He’s set to start opposite Johnson this Sunday, and will attempt to help replace the 15-sack void left behind by Greg Hardy’s departure for Dallas.

Stay tuned for the Week 1 Preview, which will include the team’s fully updated injury report.

Follow Austin on Twitter @Austallings for Breaking News, Injury Updates, and General Football-oriented Rants.