The Panthers were an incomplete operation if for no other reason it's unclear when quarterback Cam Newton will be back in full action as he has rested his surgically repaired throwing shoulder. But a 27-17 victory against the Houston Texans left a lot of good tastes.
Defense had been a staple of Carolina's good teams in recent years and that's an area that the Panthers are looking to return to form. So even though the first-team unit played for only one series, there was a sense that there could be some dominance.
"I liked what the first unit did right off the bat," head coach Ron Rivera said.
There was particularly a dose of confidence because of Steve Wilks moving into his new role as defensive coordinator. Even in the sometimes-chaotic preseason, there was evidence that the defense could be coming into good order.
The offense could be in a slightly different situation, especially until Newton's status is clarified. While there haven't been indications that he won't be ready when the season starts in September, until he's out there in a game situation there's bound to be that doubt.
So that could mean the handling of quarterback Derek Anderson's repetitions both in practice and in preseason games might be worth tracking.
"You aren't going to be perfect," Anderson said, realizing some of the task of helping get the receiving corps up to speed has now fallen on him.
There might be more clarity by the time the Panthers play their second preseason game Aug. 19 at Tennessee.
Of course, much of the attention has been deflected from Anderson because of rookie running back Christian McCaffrey's arrival. McCaffrey seems to understand that he's going to receive opportunities and the attention that accompanies that.
"It was good to get out there and finally play again," said McCaffrey, who played in college at Stanford. "Learn from it, get all the jitters out and now it's time to roll."
McCaffrey seemed in position to nearly break loose on a couple of plays (33 yards on seven carries), so that was an encouraging aspect of his first outing.
While it was new for McCaffrey, Anderson has spent quite a bit time in some seasons with the first-team unit so he knows how to handle that role.
Notes: Defensive end Vernon Butler, who had a slow start to last season because of an injury, went down in the preseason opener with a high ankle sprain that could keep him out of action for a while during training camp. He exited in the first quarter against the Houston Texans. ... Linebacker Luke Kuechly, who missed the latter part of the 2016 season as he dealt with concussion issues, has been active in training camp and he played a series in the first preseason game. He was without a tackle.