By Ed Tausche with David Rogers. August 31, 2017. CHARLOTTE, NC — Bubble is as bubble does — and Carolina Panthers head coach and general manager Marty Hurney have a tough job ahead of them after evaluating dozens “players on the bubble” of making the 2017-18 season roster. In a battle of mostly reserves on both sides Thursday night at Bank of America Stadium, Carolina lost to Pittsburgh, 17-14, when the Steelers’ rookie QB Joshua Dobbs (App State fans will remember him as formerly of the University of Tennessee) scooted across the goal line for the game-winning TD with two seconds remaining on the clock.
It was a muggy night in Charlotte with the remnants of Hurricane Harvey sweeping through the region and threatening a torrential downpour that would have put a damper on the last preseason game of the season and a last chance for coaches and general managers to see what they have — and don’t have — on their roster. They must cut to a 53-man roster early this week.
With 1:20 left to play, it appeared that the Panthers had put the game on ice when Dobbs hurled a short pass to Pittsburgh’s Cobi Hamilton. The third year WR out of Arkansas mishandled the reception and Panther safety Damian Parms recovered the fumble at the Carolina goal line for a touchback.
Unfortunately, Carolina’s Garrett Gilbert-led offensive reserves were unable to muster even a first down, and the home side was forced to punt. As it turned out, they left too much time — 49 seconds — on the clock.
Dobbs & Co. took possession at their own 47, then made short work of the relatively short field ahead of them. Three plays later, on first and 10 from the Carolina 35, a Dobbs to Marcus Tucker aerial covered 34 yards. The second year pro WR out of Northern Michigan was pushed out of bounds at the one-yard line, with nine seconds left, but that was more than enough time for Dobbs to take the ball around the right side for the game-winner.
In his third-string QB role, Dobbs made a case for himself to be the backup to the 14-year, all pro Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. The rookie from Tennessee who led the Volunteers to an overtime win over Appalachian State a year ago, completed 16 of 23 passes for 212 yards, throwing for one TD and rushing for another. Pittsburgh’s second year running back Terrell Watson (Azusa Pacific University) was the game’s leading ground gainer, rushing 19 times for 89 yards.
Although he did throw one INT, Garrett Gilbert was the Panthers leading passer on the evening, completing 12 of 17 passes for 99 yards as the 4th string QB behind Cam Newton, Derek Anderson, and Joe Webb.
After the game, Carolina head coach Ron Rivera told reporters that whenever the Panthers take the field, the first objective is to win, even in the preseason. But he added that Thursday night’s matchup with the Steelers provided the coaching staff and general manager Marty Hurney with a great opportunity to evaluate young players.
Asked by Blowing Rock News about the job ahead in trimming the roster down to 53 players, Rivera admitted that it is always a tough assignment because of the opportunity to work with so many great young players beginning with OTAs, as well as through training camp and pre-season games. “There are some really good young football players (on this preseason roster),” Rivera observed. “I can tell you this, there are probably going to be some really good football players get cut who don’t deserve to be cut.”
Rivera added that there is always a delicate balance between keeping players on the practice squad vs. just simply releasing them. “When we have players on our 53-man roster injured during the season,” he explained, “we like to bring up players from our practice squad because they know how we like to do things and are familiar with our system. If you (cut them completely), you expose them to being taken by another team. We tell players that we assign to the practice team that it is not a bad thing, but a very good thing.”
The Panthers open the regular season at the San Francisco 49ers, September 10th, with a 4:25 pm EDT scheduled kickoff. They return to Charlotte for the first home game of the season in hosting the Buffalo Bills, 1:00 pm, September 17th, at Bank of America Stadium.