The Carolina Panthers have until 4 p.m. today to make their final roster cuts.
Many of those cuts will be easy, but some spots are so close and/or so pivotal that general manager Dave Gettleman will be rubbing his throbbing temples by the end.
A year and a half ago, the big issues for the Panthers were tackle and wide receiver. Handcuffed by salary cap issues, the team didn’t do much to help those spots, but with a little more money this season, Gettleman has made some moves.
One of the biggest was giving up on LT Byron Bell and replacing him with Michael Oher.
Pro Football Focus had Bell listed as one of the two worst tackles (out of 64 starters) last season. Oher wasn’t graded much higher at 10th worst.
However, Oher said he had a toe injury that has since healed and that he feels more comfortable with Carolina’s offensive line coach. From the looks of the preseason, Oher can be an average LT, which is a vast improvement from Bell.
Not only that, but rookie Daryl Williams and returners Andrew Norwell, Amini Silatolu, Trai Turner and Mike Remmers have all shown signs of improvement, according to the coaching staff.
This unit could be the best line of the Cam Newton era.
Helping make this group better is a corps of tight ends that has been impressive this preseason.
Greg Olsen is a known property, one of the best in the league. Ed Dickson is a good blocker who only catches a pass a game. Then the team has great depth with Richie Brockel and Brandon Williams behind them.
Brockel has filled in at fullback, too, but missed most of last season with an injury. “Swole Bones” Williams, as Newton calls him, is a chiseled specimen who came to the team very raw, but looks more polished in his third season.
Newton had his highest passing yardage as a rookie when he had both Olsen and Jeremy Shockey to target. It would be nice to see a second TE complement Olsen like that, especially with WR Kelvin Benjamin out for the season.
Which brings us to the next point of concern. Last year it was the loss of almost the entire receiving corps that alarmed fans.
Benjamin did his part with 1,000 yards receiving, but it was scary beyond that.
Jerrico Cotchery, possibly the slowest wideout in the league now, caught 48 balls for 580 yards. That ranked him 77th in the league.
After that, Corey Brown had 21 catches and Brenton Bersin 13.
With Benjamin out, that leaves returning players who were 77th, 143rd and 222nd in yardage.
Gettleman went to work on this spot, bringing back Ted Ginn Jr., drafting Devin Funchess and signing Jarrett Boykin from Green Bay. The team also brought back former practice squad member Marcus Lucas.
Boykin didn’t impress (except against third-stringers) and was cut. Funchess tweaked a hamstring and has fallen far behind in his development. And Lucas has bulked so much the team has moved him to TE to join that crowded field.
Lucas might force the Panthers into tough choices at TE after catching six passes for 99 yards and a TD in the preseason. That was second only to Olsen in yardage.
Bersin caught flak for a punting snafu last season, but shows good hands. He had seven catches for 88 yards and a TD in exhibition.
Ginn had five catches for 83 yards, Funchess four for 75 yards. An unsung signing, Mike Brown from the Jaguars, had seven catches for 90 yards.
After Corey Brown went drop-happy in the first three preseason games, the team made a trade for Kevin Norwood, who caught two balls for 40 yards against Pittsburgh. The former Philly Brown was a pleasant surprise last year, but may have played himself right out of a roster spot.
I’m not Gettleman, and I haven’t been in Charlotte watching daily practices, but from what I’ve seen in games, my choices at receiver would be Funchess, Norwood, Ginn, Bersin and Corey Brown.
Putting Ginn and Corey Brown on the field at the same time could scare safeties into dropping back, opening up scrambling lanes for Newton or draw plays for the backs.
While the coaches love Cotchery, the former N.C. State star is better suited at this point to join Ricky Proehl on the sideline as an assistant.
Speaking of backs, the RB group is as deep and talented as the TEs. Jonathan Stewart is a known commodity, and Fozzy Whittaker has impressed the coaches enough he looks like a lock. That leaves Cameron Artis-Payne, Jordan Todman and Brandon Wegher battling for one, possibly two spots.
Todman was a forgotten man until breaking loose for a 49-yard TD run against the Steelers. But he was more than a one-hit wonder; in his other 16 carries, he averaged a team-best 5.3 yards a carry.
Artis-Payne is bigger than Todman, Wegher and Whittaker, but showed good quickness as well. He averaged 4.6 yards a carry. The team is very high on him.
So, while Wegher drew a lot of cheers from fans and praise from the TV announcers, he might not have a spot. If the team only keeps three halfbacks, though, Todman might also be unemployed.
Reach Jeff at 415-4692 and on Twitter @SportsDudeJeff.