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Panthers look for offensive rhythm without Cam Newton versus Titans

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Rivera taking extra precautions with Cam (1:11)

Matt and Tim Hasselbeck react to Panthers coach Ron Rivera keeping Cam Newton out of live practices against the Titans. (1:11)

Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton had a good time jawing with the fans during joint practices with the Tennessee Titans this past week in Nashville, Tennessee.

“I can’t right now, brother,’’ Newton told fans wanting a moment of his time Thursday. “I’m working. I’ve got to keep my lights on. I’ve got to keep my bills paid. You know what I’m saying?’’

Newton didn’t do much to pay the bills during Wednesday and Thursday practices as he continued to rehab his surgically repaired shoulder. He threw some in individual drills and 7-on-7 drills but didn’t participate in team drills.

He won’t play in Saturday's 3 p.m. preseason game at Nissan Stadium, where the 2015 NFL MVP introduced the world to the dab two years ago.

But there are plenty of other things to keep an eye on as the Panthers try to run their preseason record to 2-0. Here are five things:

Offensive consistency -- Coach Ron Rivera used the word “terrible’’ to describe all of the bad plays made Thursday. He wasn’t happy with the rhythm, the dropped passes and the fundamental mistakes. Even without Newton and several other stars, Rivera told players that if they expected to be great, “you’ve got to be great every day.’’ He says that even if it’s backup quarterback Derek Anderson running the offense and lesser-known receivers catching passes, as was the case Thursday. There are no guarantees Newton will be ready for the opener, even though that is the target. So it’s imperative the offense look sharp with Anderson & Co.

What’s next, McCaffrey? Rivera wasn’t the only one unhappy with Thursday’s practice. Even rookie Christian McCaffrey said the Panthers have “higher standards.” McCaffrey set the bar pretty high for himself in the preseason opener, rushing for 33 yards on seven carries. He almost broke a couple of runs. What he didn’t do was catch a pass, one of the big reasons he was selected with the eighth pick in the draft. While the Panthers don’t want to show their entire game plan for McCaffrey before the opener, they’ll want to see what the former Stanford star can do in the passing game against an opponent other than his own defense. Getting him one-on-one in the open field will be a big part of this offense no matter who is playing quarterback.

One-game wonder? Damiere Byrd made a strong case for a roster spot in the preseason opener, catching four passes for 99 yards and two touchdowns. With Kelvin Benjamin, Devin Funchess, Russell Shepard and second-round pick Curtis Samuel (yes, despite the hamstring injury that has kept him out of training camp) locks, there are only one or two spots left at receiver. The Panthers could go with just five because of McCaffrey’s dual-threat capabilities. So Byrd can’t take anything for granted with Brenton Bersin also a factor.

Safety net -- Depth at safety behind starters Mike Adams and Kurt Coleman, plus backup Colin Jones, is arguably the biggest concern on this roster. The Panthers are looking for L.J. McCray or Dezmen Southward to consistently step up. There’s still a good chance the fourth safety will be a player not on the current roster.

For kicks -- Veteran Graham Gano still appears to have the edge over seventh-round pick Harrison Butker based on practice, but it’s not a lock. Butker made a good impression with a 51-yard field goal in the preseason opener. Gano missed a 50-yarder that hit the left upright. Gano’s price tag -- $4 million against the cap -- also could be a factor if it’s close. The Panthers would save $3.25 million in cap space by releasing him. They could apply that to one of several players seeking extensions, including tight end Greg Olsen, guard Andrew Norwell and defensive tackle Star Lotulelei.