by Sharon Thorsland
It’s been quite a week for the Panthers in Foxboro – their two days of joint practices were marred by several fights that saw several players from both teams kicked off the field. Let’s hope none of that animosity carries over into Friday night’s preseason matchup between the teams. In spite of the scrums, quarterback Baker Mayfield says the practices were a success. “There’s a lot of perks doing these joint practices, said Mayfield. “It’s a great opportunity for us to get different looks and stuff that we’re not practicing against everyday and really see how guys handle it.”
Not many of the Panthers starters will be on the field tonight, instead it will be the 2’s and 3’s that get the bulk of the action. That means plenty of rookie QB Matt Corral, who is looking to improve on his NFL debut last week against the Commanders. He and the rest of the Panthers offense will likely be facing the Patriots starters, though, as they are expected to play most of the first half. That will no doubt be a challenge, as the Pats boasted the second ranked defense in the NFL last season. They run a 3-4 scheme with a veteran front line anchored by Deatrich Wise. The pats parted ways with Pro Bowl linebackers Jamie Collins and Dont’a Hightower, but veteran Ja’Whaun Bentley takes over in the middle. And of course they’ve got Matt Judon, who led the team with 12.5 sacks last season. “Obviously a great defense,” said Panthers offensive lineman Brady Christensen. “A lot of athleticism up front, so it’s going to be a challenge for us.”
Whoever is in a quarterback for the Panthers will be tested by the Patriots secondary that has plenty of experience and some talented rookies. Veteran cornerbacks Jonathan Jones and Jalen Mills are joined by a pair of outstanding rookies in Marcus Jones and Jack Jones. The safeties are anchored by All-Pro Devin McCourty, he teams with Adrian Phillips and former Lenior-Rhyne standout Kyle Dugger They’ll face a Panther offense that is still trying to figure out its starting quarterback but has plenty of weapons, “They have great players on that side, and of course they’ve got two quarterbacks that can really take over the team,” said Phillips. “They’ve got playmakers outside and you obviously can’t forget about Christian McCaffrey.”
CMC will not be on the field tonight, but the Patriots running backs will be on display. Dual threat James White retired last week but the Pats still have a power rushing attack anchored by young backs Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson. The pair racked up over 1500 yards and 20 rushing touchdowns between them last season. Quarterback Mac Jones is back after a solid rookie campaign that saw him toss 22 touchdowns, and the Patriots are loaded at receiver – former NC State standout Jackobi Meyers teams with Kendrick Bourne and veteran Nelson Agholor, and the Pats also brought in former Dolphin Devante Parker and drafted speedy Tyquan Thornton out of Baylor.. Of course the Panthers are no slouches on defense – they ranked 4th in the league last season allowing just 192 passing yards per game.
While we won’t exactly be comparing apples to apples tonight, this should still be a very good test for the Panthers. After the chippy practices this week, both teams are no doubt looking forward facing off for real tonight. And coaches are looking forward to seeing how their guys stack up. “I think you have a chance to really measure some of your players,” said Panthers coach Matt Rhule. “You have a chance to measure where you are.”