Gridiron Preseason Preview: Panthers at Dolphins

Cam Newton takes his act to the road for the first time in his fledging professional career this week, though the No. 1 overall pick in the 2011 draft will have to share the spotlight when the Dolphins unveil their new main attraction before an awaiting home crowd for Friday’s preseason tilt with the Panthers.

The game will mark the Dolphins debut of Reggie Bush, acquired by the team in a trade with the New Orleans Saints just prior to the start of training camp. The dynamic running back and return man had been held out of Miami’s 2011 opener as a precaution, but is slated to take the field for this contest.

Miami could use Bush’s skills, judging by the first-team offense’s output during the early stages of last week’s clash at Atlanta. The Dolphins mustered just five total yards and no first downs over their initial three possessions against the Falcons, which contributed to a 17-0 deficit after the first quarter.

The Dolphins were able to rally for a 28-23 victory, however, with backup quarterback and ex-Panther Matt Moore throwing a pair of touchdown passes and rookie Phillip Livas scoring on a 75-yard punt return in the fourth quarter.

Bush won’t be the only Miami player under the microscope on Friday. Starting quarterback Chad Henne struggled mightily at the outset of the Atlanta game, throwing interceptions on two of the first three drives that were turned into 10 Atlanta points.

Henne did rebound with a 44-yard touchdown strike to Brian Hartline in the second quarter and finished his stint 4-of-8 for 77 yards. Moore, who began last season as Carolina’s primary signal-caller, completed 11-of-18 throws and was picked off once.

Despite Henne’s shaky showing and Moore’s mostly solid performance, Dolphins head coach Tony Sparano reiterated this week that he has no plans to make a change at the position for the time being.

Newton is expected to make his first-ever NFL start on Friday after following second-year man Jimmy Clausen in the opener, as the two resume their competition to be the Panthers’ No. 1 quarterback. The 2010 Heisman Trophy recipient produced mixed results in his first NFL action, hitting on just 8- of-19 passes but also orchestrating a pair of scoring drives in Saturday’s 20-10 win over the New York Giants.

Newton connected with tight end Greg Olson for a 30-yard gain on his first possession, which led to an Olindo Mare field goal, then delivered a 36-yard pass to Armanti Edwards later on to set up another Mare kick.

Clausen started his night poorly, as his first pass of the night was intercepted by Giants linebacker Michael Boley for a 56-yard touchdown. The former Notre Dame standout did regroup on the ensuing series, however, and found Olsen for an 18-yard score to tie the game at 7-7.

Olsen, who came over in an offseason trade with Chicago, was the Panthers’ offensive star, with the fifth-year pro registering team highs of three catches and 58 receiving yards.

Both Carolina quarterbacks will have Steve Smith available to throw to for Friday’s matchup, as the veteran wide receiver returned to practice this week after sitting out the opener with an injured hand. Defensive end Charles Johnson (shoulder) and linebacker Thomas Davis (knee surgery), both of whom also missed the Giants game, are also slated to play against the Dolphins.

The Panthers will still be without middle linebacker and Miami native Jon Beason, who’s dealing with a sore Achilles tendon, while offensive tackle Jeff Otah is still recovering from a knee injury and also won’t suit up.

These teams have split two previous preseason meetings, with the Panthers posting a 19-10 home win in 2006 and the Dolphins recording a 27-17 triumph at Sun Life Stadium in 2009. Miami also bested Carolina by a 24-17 count in Charlotte during the 2009 regular season.

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