The Bengals ran for 191 yards and two touchdowns Thursday night. (AP Photo)
CINCINNATI -- For the second straight week the Carolina Panthers got destroyed on the defensive front, but the team is hopeful that help is on the way.
The Panthers, who gave up 139 rushing yards in first half of Thursday night's 24-13 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, claimed defensive tackle Kentwan Balmer off waivers from Seattle prior to the game. A former University of North Carolina product, Balmer was a first-round draft pick by the San Francisco 49ers in 2008.
Balmer is expected to join the team for Saturday’s practice.
The Panthers are hoping 6-foot-5, 318-pound Balmer can help fill the void created by Ron Edwards, who was placed on injured reserve after tearing his triceps on Aug. 4. However, Balmer will play a different position than Edwards, as the team will try him out at the three-technique, which is what he played at North Carolina.
Balmer, 24, has largely underachieved during his three-year NFL career but coach Ron Rivera feels that's because he's been out of position since coming into the league playing defensive end in a 3-4 defense. He played two disappointing seasons (19 tackles in 27 games) for the 49ers before being traded to Seattle in 2010, where he saw his most significant action, recording 43 tackles in 11 starts. However, the Seahawks cut him on Wednesday.
"The 3-4 is a different animal and I don't think he's well suited for that," Rivera said. "In talking with (general manager) Marty Hurney, that's why we did it. We think we can bring him back and see if he has some ability to play the three-technique."
Losing Edwards left the Panthers extremely thin at defensive tackle. Nick Hayden has the most experience of the bunch with 13 starts. The Panthers drafted Sione Fua and Terrell McClain in the third round and both started against the Bengals.
To make room for Balmer, the Panthers placed cornerback Cletis Gordon on injured reserve with a shoulder injury.
CHANGES ON DEFENSE: The Panthers had three new starters on defense Thursday night, including rookie McClain getting the nod over DT Corvey Irvin and RDE Everette Brown working ahead of Eric Norwood.
Brown is a temporary starter at best as coach Ron Rivera said Greg Hardy will start opposite Charles Johnson at defensive end when healthy. Hardy practiced this week, but was held out of the game as a precautionary measure.
Brown struggled in his first start of the preseason. The Bengals continuously ran to his side, the most obvious breakdown coming on a 12-yard touchdown burst from Bernard Scott around left end.
SS Jordan Pugh got the start for the Panthers after Sherrod Martin felt tightness in his groin while warming up and was scratched. Rivera said Martin had been bothered by the injury most of the week and the team didn't want to take any chances.
GROSS: OFFENSE IMPROVING: Despite the fact they only had 203 yards and 11 first downs Thursday night, OT Jordan Gross thinks the Panthers are improving on offense.
"I think our offense took huge steps from last game to this game," Gross said. "The little things, like play delivery in the huddle, getting to the line of scrimmage with enough time to make our calls and audibles, and Cam making good decisions with the ball. We progressed as an offense. We scored on our first possession and had some field goals where we had some good field position in the second half, but we didn't do a whole lot in between. We need to at least change field position if we're not going to score."
Gross said he's actually impressed with how well the offense is clicking considering they’ve only been together for about four weeks.
"That's not an excuse, but we've progressed at a steady rate and I think everybody is excited more about September 11th more so than anything in August," Gross said.
Gross said he was impressed with Newton's touchdown run.
"When we drafted him I said this is a long ways away from Jake Delhomme in the pocket," Gross said with a laugh referring to the Panthers starting quarterback from 2003-09. "And Jake is my guy.
“But that’s what I expected to see with Cam. That's huge. That's going to make my job easier. Guys are going to have to rush to contain. We were in a division with Mike Vick for so long that you were jealous of their linemen because of the run threat he possessed. But I think Cam did really well."
GAMBLE STRUGGLES, INJURED: Chris Gamble is supposed to be the team’s No. 1 cornerback, but he didn’t play like it in his first preseason start.
Gamble was burnt twice by Bengals rookie WR A.J. Green. The first one, a 30-yard gain, was called back when Green failed to get both feet inbounds. On the second attempt, Green blew by Gamble for a 40-yard touchdown run reception. After giving up that touchdown, Gamble left the game with a dislocated thumb and was replaced by C.J. Wilson.
He did not return but should not miss any game time.
EDWARDS's BIG MISTAKE: Armanti Edwards said earlier in camp he was so comfortable fielding punts that he could do it with his eyes closed.
But on Thursday night Edwards fumbled a punt return with 1:35 left in the first half at his own 12-yard line. On the very next play RB Bernard Scott raced 12 yards around left end for a touchdown to give the Bengals a 21-7 lead. It looked like Edwards had running room if he fielded the ball, but he took his eyes off of it.
"I got a little excited and tried to run before I caught it," Edwards said.
"That was disappointing because I think he's made great strides," Rivera said. "I think what happened is he took a peak at the last second to see where he was and where his lane was instead of making the catch. You hate to see that happen. But I think he came back and made a couple of good decisions."
Overall, Carolina's return teams were awful Thursday night, victimized by a handful of holding and illegal block infractions.
SMITH A NON-FACTOR: WR Steve Smith was a non-factor in the passing game.
He caught a 9-yard reception early on from QB Cam Newton but that was it. It wasn't from a lack of trying. Newton looked Smith's way several times, but the two struggled to hook up as Newton's accuracy (6 of 19 passing) was off for most of the night.
"Steve is a big part of our offense," Newton said. "Not just him but all of the other receivers also. We have a lot of playmakers. It starts with me being the distributor -- getting those guys the ball."
TATTOO TALK: Newton said owner Jerry Richardson hasn't said anything to him about not getting tattoos, not that he plans on doing so anyway.
"That's something that is blown way out of proportion," Newton said. "I haven't heard anything from Mr. Richardson. Our relationship is A-1. He didn't say anything."
However, Richardson did say on the Charlie Rose Show that he liked that Newton didn't have tattoos or piercings and hoped he’d keep it that way.
MARE GETS HIS KICKS: One of the reasons the Panthers replaced K John Kasay with Olindo Mare is because of Mare’s strength on kickoffs.
And on Thursday night, he showed what he can do by blasting his first three kickoffs out of the back of the end zone. His fourth attempt landed eight yards deep and was not returned.
Mare had 20 touchbacks last season but figures to double that total this year with the NFL moving up the kickoff line 5 yards this season.
Mare also connected on field goals of 42 and 38 yards in the third quarter and did not miss any.
PANTHERS TAKE TWO: Carolina did recover two fumbles in the first three quarters. Gamble got the first one on a botched handoff, while FS Charles Godfrey stripped FB Brian Leonard in the second half and Brown recovered. Those turnovers led to 10 of Carolina’s 13 points.
SITTING IT OUT: Among the key Panthers sitting out Thursday night were LB Jon Beason, RG Geoff Schwartz, RT Jeff Otah, FB Tony Fiammetta, Hardy and Martin. Rivera said he hopes to get Otah and Hardy back next week.
CUTS ARE COMING: The Panthers will make their first round of cuts on Tuesday, trimming their roster by 10 to 80 players. The big cuts come Sept. 3 when the Panthers get down to 53 players.