Sharon Thorsland's First Thoughts On The First Panthers Preseason Game

August 8, 2018

It's finally time for some football, even if it is just an exhibition game! The Panthers face a familiar foe Thursday night in their first game of the preseason, they're in Buffalo taking on the Bills at New Era Field. Kick-off is set for 7:00 on WBT. The Panthers will get to see several old friends, including head coach Sean McDermott, receiver Kelvin Benjamin, and defensive tackle Star Lotulelei. The game will also mark the debut of the Panther offense under new coordinator Norv Turner. And after two weeks of banging heads with teammates, guys are ready to see some new competition. “You want to hit something different, you want to start tackling, you want to get that big pop,” says defensive tackle KK Short. “And what better week to start it than the Bills.” 

The Bills are coming off a 9-7 season that saw them end a 17-year playoff drought, they lost to the Jaguars in the wildcard round. They're hoping to build on that this season, but they'll do it with a new quarterback. The Bills traded Tyrod Taylor to the Browns, and drafted Wyoming's Josh Allen at 7th overall. Until Allen is ready to go, it will be veteran A-J McCarron or second-year pro Nathan Peterman directing the offense. So far neither has been particularly impressive in camp, which is not great news for the Bills' passing game, which ranked 31st in the league last season.

Whoever is throwing the ball, they have former Panther Kelvin Benjamin as their number one receiver. The Bills are looking for big things out of second-year player Zay Jones – the East Carolina product is still coming back from offseason knee and shoulder surgery. And keep an eye out for former Tar Heel Austin Proehl and recent pickup Corey Coleman.

The good news for the Bills is that they have one of the top running backs in the league in LeSean McCoy. “Shady” has been spectacular since coming to Buffalo in a trade with Philly three seasons ago, racking up 3300 yards and 22 touchdowns. With McCoy in the lineup, the Bills have finished first, first and sixth in rushing in the NFL. This season the Bills added former Jaguar Chris Ivory, giving them a bigger, more physical back who can rotate in along with Travaris Cadet. Patrick DiMarco starts at fullback. 

The Bills offensive line saw a lot of changes, with three starters leaving for retirement or new teams. The defensive line is at the other end of the spectrum, with all four starters back, including former Clemson standout Shaq Lawson. He starts at defensive end with Jerry Hughes. The Bills struggled against the run last season, so they added former Panther Star Lotulelei, he starts at defensive tackle with 13-year veteran Kyle Williams. The Bills traded up to snag athletic linebacker Tremaine Edmunds out of Virginia Tech with the 16th overall pick, and he's the Bills version of Luke Kuechly. He teams with veteran Lorenzo Alexander and 2nd-year player Matt Milano.

The strength of Buffalo's defense is its secondary, which got even better with the addition of longtime Colt Vontae Davis. The Pro Bowler has 22 career interceptions, and teams with talented 2nd-year player Tre'Davious White, Phillip Gaines is the nickel back. Former Saint Rafael Bush was brought in for depth at safety, Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde are the starters, they each had five interceptions last season. Former Panther Dean Marlowe is also in the mix. “This is a very good defense,” says Panther tight end Greg Olsen. “It's a huge challenge, these guys are really good. They gave us all we could handle last year in week two. We know what they can do, they've got some good players. It will be fun.”