The Houston Texans travel to Charlotte, N.C. Saturday to open the preseason against the Carolina Panthers.
The Panthers are coming off of a 6-10 campaign that saw them improve dramatically from their previous 2010 record of 2-14. Carolina finished the 2011-12 NFL Season ranked seventh in overall offense.
The catalysts for their improvement were new Offensive Coordinator Rob Chudzinski and first overall pick and eventual 2011 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year Cam Newton.
Now with an entire season and 2012 offseason under their belts, the Carolina Panthers, led offensively by Newton, should be even more potent.
The Texans finished the 2011-12 campaign with their best record ever, winning their division and making it past the first round of the playoffs. That success has come with many challenges, as players such as outside linebacker Mario Williams, inside linebacker DeMeco Ryans, offensive linemen Eric Winston and Mike Brisiel, wide receiver Jacoby Jones and tight end Joel Dreessen are no longer with the team.
Defensive End J.J. Watt is out with a dislocated elbow, and linebacker Brian Cushing will miss the game due to an illness that caused him to miss much of practice last week.
Texans QB Matt Schaub is back after missing the last eight games of last season due to a lisfranc injury to his right foot, however he and fellow QB (and former Tarheel) T.J. Yates figure to see limited snaps. John Beck and former University of Houston QB Case Keenum should see the bulk of the plays.
The Texans are trying to find a few receivers and solidify their first team offensive line, so it could be an interesting night for the Panthers defense, who are looking to rebound after a record-setting 2011 campaign. Carolina's defense set the bar high for futility last season, allowing the most yardage ever in a single season (6,042) and allowing an NFL-high 7.6 yards per pass play on average.
Carolina played nearly the entire season without linebackers Jon Beason and Thomas Davis, as well ast defensive tackle Ron Edwards -- whom the Panthers were counting on to be a big contributor.
Beason and Davis won't play against the Texans due to injuries unrelated to last season, however Edwards will make his Carolina debut.
Carolina is trying to sort out a kicking conundrum, with K Justin Medlock and incumbent Olindo Mare battling for the position. Medlock has looked better through camp, however is unproven.
Other battles to watch are at wide receiver, cornerback and safety.
WRs Seyi Ajirotutu and Louis Murphy are battling for the third receiver position, Captain Munnerlyn is trying to fend off rookie Josh Norman at cornerback, and Haruki Nakamura looks to have the inside track at safety over Sherrod Martin.
It'll also be the first games for Panther rookies Luke Kuechly and Amini Solitolu, who figure to start at linebacker and offensive guard, respectively.