CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Josh Dobbs has never been cut from a team in his life, no matter the sport. The Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback understands the streak is in jeopardy due to the indelicate politics that come with putting together an NFL roster.
It's a reality Dobbs can live with if he has to. Then again, after throwing for a touchdown and running for another in a 39-24 preseason victory over Carolina on Thursday night, Dobbs made a compelling case to stick around - be it in Pittsburgh or elsewhere in the league.
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"I don't really get too nervous," Dobbs said. "I don't really play that game. I know it's a stressful time. I'll just let it play itself out. That's all I can do. I know it's not really in my hands. I feel like I've played well. Played strong."
Dobbs, fighting for one of the backup jobs behind Ben Roethlisberger, vaulted into the end zone for a 3-yard scoring run to cap Pittsburgh's first drive. He added a 27-yard strike to Tevin Jones later in the opening quarter and finished 8 of 12 for 151 yards to cap an impressive training camp.
"I think it's night and day from this season to last season," said Dobbs, a fourth-round pick in 2017. "Just in total command and understanding of the offense and then being able to go out and make plays on the field. Throughout the preseason, I was able to make plays when I was given my opportunity. It shows in my command, I think it shows in my play and in how the offense was able to move up and down the field."
It just might not be enough for Dobbs to stick around.
Dobbs, veteran Landry Jones and rookie Mason Rudolph are all vying for a backup spot behind Ben Roethlisberger. Jones, who has played well while filling in for Roethlisberger over the last three seasons, is likely safe. So too is Rudolph, a third-round pick this spring who came on for Dobbs late in the first half on Thursday and threw for a pair of touchdowns of his own.
The Steelers (3-1) could keep all four quarterbacks when rosters are trimmed to 53 on Saturday, then perhaps deal one of the backups - Dobbs being the best candidate - to add depth elsewhere.
While Dobbs stressed he loves Pittsburgh, he insisted he's not going to lose sleep trying to figure out the various scenarios.
"You have to focus on the task at hand, focus on the process and focus on what you can control and just keep hitting the wall," Dobbs said. "It will break at some point."
The quarterback math isn't quite so complicated for the Panthers (3-1). Taylor Heincke and Garrett Gilbert have spent the last six weeks trying to gain some separation in the fight to back up Cam Newton.
Heincke started the finale and moved the ball, going 7 of 12 for 68 yards and a 6-yard touchdown to Mose Frazier. Gilbert came on in the second quarter and was 4 of 7 for 23 yards. Rookie Kyle Allen played the entire second half, completing 25 of 35 passes for 250 yards and a score.
"I think there are some good things," Rivera said. "It's tough when you are not playing with everybody, but we know that going in, it was going to be tough. And we'll take a look at that and we will evaluate. We'll come to a conclusion in the next couple days."
Pittsburgh wide receiver Ryan Switzer capped a frantic 72-hour stretch by returning one punt for 9 yards and averaging 21.5 yards on two kickoff returns. Switzer - acquired from Oakland on Monday to bolster the Steelers' return game - also saw a handful of snaps at receiver but was not targeted.
Panthers: RB Elijah Hood (lower body) was hurt on the opening kickoff and did not return.
Steelers: S Malik Golden (knee) was carted off the field in the fourth quarter. Golden was also hurt in the 2017 preseason finale against Carolina. WR Damoun Patterson (turf toe), LB Keith Kelsey (pectoral) and LB Olasunkanmi Adeniyi (hamstring) also left with injuries.
There were no protests by players on either team during the national anthem.
Panthers: Welcome Dallas to Bank of America Stadium for the season opener on Sept. 9.
Steelers: Open at Cleveland for the second straight season when they visit the Browns on Sept. 9.
Cam Newton is welcoming the idea of sharing the spotlight in Carolina.
Newton has been the focal point of the Panthers' offense for the past seven seasons, but that's about to change - at least to some degree.
Sure, Newton will still be running the show and remain a dual-threat QB, but coach Ron Rivera has made it clear Christian McCaffrey will play a much larger role this season, saying that it would be "ideal" to get the second-year running back 25 to 30 touches per game.
That's a lot.
McCaffrey averaged less than half that amount of touches as a rookie and still managed 1,086 yards from scrimmage and seven total touchdowns, so there's potential for him to have a big season.
Most of McCaffrey's production came as a receiver in 2017, where he set a franchise rookie record with 80 receptions and five TD catches. But after releasing all-time leading rusher Jonathan Stewart, the Panthers are eager to feature McCaffrey more in the running game - similar to how new Panthers offensive coordinator Norv Turner used LaDainian Tomlinson in San Diego.
"I could see Christian, especially if he continues to develop the way we think he can, being a very integral part of what we want to do," Rivera said.
And it's all part of the overall design to take some of the pressure off Newton, who led the team in rushing as well as passing last season.
One of the reasons Turner was brought in was to find new and creative ways to get McCaffrey the ball, particularly in open space where he's difficult to tackle because of his speed and shiftiness.
McCaffrey has been featured extensively in the preseason, touching the ball 10 times for 51 yards on Carolina's opening 16-play drive against the New England Patriots in the third preseason game.
Here are some other things to know about the Panthers:
It is Shaq Thompson time in Carolina.
Thompson has been groomed for the past three seasons to take over for Thomas Davis at weakside linebacker. With Davis suspended four games to open the season for testing positive for a banned substance, Thompson gets his shot.
"Thomas is the leader of our room, he's the leader of this team," middle linebacker Luke Kuechly said. "We are going to miss having him around. Shaq will do an excellent job, but when Thomas gets back, he's going to be hungry and he's going to be fresh."
The Panthers will be counting on second-round pick Donte Jackson to step in and start right away at cornerback.
Jackson is not big, but he was one of the fastest players in college football last season. He still struggles at times taking the correct angle on tackles, but the Panthers love his swagger and playmaking ability.
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