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January 1, 2012; New Orleans, LA, USA; Carolina Panthers wide receiver Brandon LaFell (11) lines up for a play against the New Orleans Saints during the first quarter of a game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-US PRESSWIRE

Carolina Panthers vs. Houston Texans: What to Watch For


Another night, another couple of pre-season matchups for the die-hard fans who love watching the roster bubble battles. One of tonight’s matchups includes the Houston Texans and Carolina Panthers, a couple of very intriguing teams that would make for quite a regular season matchup. Fortunately for both of these teams, the quarterback situation is figured out but both teams have question marks at the receiver position.

The Texans are struggling to establish their number two receiver, and the Panthers are really in almost an identical situation. Houston features Andre Johnson, one of the best to ever play his position, and the Panthers feature Steve Smith who had a breakout revival last year when Cam Newton became the quarterback.

Both offenses are high-octane rushing attacks that have the potential for multiple thousand yard backs, but with the run setting up the pass, they need to have stronger second receivers. This will be the biggest battle I’m looking forward to watching tonight, as well as a couple of first round picks at the linebacker position.

1. Who is Number Two?

For right now, the Texans are rolling with Kevin Walter as the number two receiver to Andre Johnson. Walter is not a dynamic player but he’s always been pretty solid. There are some intriguing names on the roster, including two 2012 draft picks. Keshawn Martin has had a strong camp, and is currently listed as Andre Johnson’s backup as the top receiver on the team. He will likely be working the slot and helping the team out as a return specialist, but perhaps he can establish himself as the team’s second receiver before too long. DeVier Posey is going to need a big pre-season to climb up the depth chart, but he is a very talented player who dropped in the draft due to character concerns. He would have been a second round pick if he’d come out after his junior season.

I think the Panthers overall have better depth at the receiver position, and a guy who could really breakout this year is Brandon LaFell, who has the second spot locked up coming out of camp. LaFell has been slowly coming along after having pretty high expectations coming out of LSU, but he seems primed for a breakout year after catching 36 passes for 613 yards and three touchdowns a year ago.

Behind him is where the real competition starts, and I love the acquisition for the Panthers of Louis Murphy from the Raiders. Murphy was not healthy often last year, but when he plays, he is a big play threat and a tough receiver who has good hands. He was a huge steal for Oakland in the draft a couple of years back, and getting rid of him was short-sighted in my opinion, even with their depth at receiver. I love that pickup for the Panthers, and I hope we get a chance to see him make some plays tonight.

Rounding out the group is this year’s top pick at the position, Joe Adams, the speedster out of Arkansas, Kealoha Pilares, a tough receiver who is capable of making an impact, and big receiver David Gettis, giving the Panthers a solid six man rotation. This year’s pre-season is going to be huge for Armanti Edwards. The former star QB at Appalachian State looked like he could be the next Josh Cribbs coming out, but he has not developed. He is now a long shot to make Carolina’s roster and could be auditioning his talents for other teams.

 

2. Top Picks at LB

Carolina made a bold move on draft day, taking one of the most prolific tacklers in NCAA history in Luke Kuechly, who is slated to start for the team at WLB sooner rather than later. Right now, he’s running with the second team behind Thomas Davis at that position, and I wouldn’t be shocked to see one of Carolina’s current starting LBs moved before the regular season starts to make room for Kuechly. They could be tough to get rid of since they all have pretty high contract numbers, but you never know these days. I am very intrigued to see how the Panthers incorporate all four linebackers into their defensive sets, seeing that all of James Anderson, Jon Beason, and Thomas Davis were given big contract extensions in the last couple of years. Kuechly will certainly make an impact being a top ten pick, but how exactly?

Similarly, the Houston Texans appear to be loaded defensively and when they drafted Whitney Mercilus, I was surprised but I wasn’t. Houston is breaking in an almost all new linebacker group this year with Mario Williams and DeMeco Ryans no longer present, and the current four starters in Wade Phillips’ scheme are Bradie James and Brian Cushing on the inside, and Connor Barwin along with Brooks Reed on the outside.

Williams’ departure leaves the Texans without an elite level pass rusher, but Connor Barwin replaced Williams admirably last year with 11.5 sacks to lead the team. He is a star in the making. Ryans leaves the team as the Texans’ all-time leading tackler, but Bradie James is a veteran who will replace him well enough. Brooks Reed on the outside finished with six sacks a year ago, and the Texans also nailed last year’s first round selection, defensive end J.J. Watt.

Mercilus has a lot of work to do just to get on the field, but he is big enough to come in as a pass rusher on third downs and play with his hand in the dirt as well as standing up from the inside or outside. Similar to my excitement of seeing how Carolina uses Luke Kuechly, I am excited to see how Houston uses Mercilus, last year’s sack leader in college football.

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Tags: Brandon LaFell Cam Newton Carolina Panthers Houston Texans NFL Preseason