CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- A big question for the Carolina Panthers entering the preseason was whether second-year running back Cameron Artis-Payne could carry the load if something happened to starter Jonathan Stewart.
Check that box.
Artis-Payne, playing behind a makeshift line of non-starters in Thursday night's exhibition finale against the Pittsburgh Steelers, carried 18 times for 77 yards (4.3 yards per carry) and caught two passes for 18 yards.
He showed explosiveness and power as a ball-carrier. He showed skill as a receiver, particularly on a one-handed catch.
At worst, he can effectively take the five or six carries off of Stewart that coach Ron Rivera wants, something he couldn't do a year ago.
Fullback Mike Tolbert summed it up best last week when Artis-Payne played well against New England, saying: "He's going to be ready to take over at any time."
Here are other observations from the 18-6 victory that gave Carolina a 2-2 preseason record:
QB depth chart: With Teddy Bridgewater out for the year, the Minnesota Vikings might wish they hadn't given up on Joe Webb as a quarterback when they switched him to wide receiver in 2013. Now Carolina's third-string quarterback behind Cam Newton and Derek Anderson, both off for the night, was an efficient 17-for-29 passing for 200 yards despite being sacked three times. He might have been sacked more were it not for his athletic ability. That Webb also can play special teams and wide receiver makes him arguably one of the most valuable third-string quarterbacks in the NFL.
Maybe that dude could start: We all know that middle linebacker Luke Kuechly is a "tackling machine." But with Kuechly wearing headphones and playing assistant coach, second-year player David Mayo did a pretty good Kuechly impression. Known for his tackling at Texas State, Mayo made six tackles in the first half, including one for a loss on third-and-short in the third quarter that got him pumped up.
Who got hurt? Wide receiver Kevin Norwood went down awkwardly on his left leg after a great catch late in the first half. He stayed down and had to be carted to the locker room. Norwood was a long shot to make the 53-man roster. Damiere Byrd came into the game with a slight edge over the former Seattle Seahawks receiver because of his abilities as a kick returner and receiver. That didn't change. Reserve offensive tackle Jordan Rigsbee suffered a right knee injury.
A surprise player who impressed: If running back Brandon Wegher doesn't make the roster I'd be stunned. He's one of Carolina's most physical special teams players, and he showed his abilities as a running back in this one with 42 tough yards on 11 carries. Fozzy Whittaker might be concerned Saturday when cuts come.
One reason to be concerned: Second-year player Daryl Williams started at left tackle for Michael Oher and was less than impressive in pass protection. He gave up two sacks in the first 20 minutes. The Panthers have to be worried about what they would do if Oher were injured. The other options as a backup left tackle aren't much better. This might be an area general manager Dave Gettleman looks to upgrade after final roster cuts.
The Butler did it: Not much has been written about first-round pick Vernon Butler since he's playing behind defensive tackles Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short. But he showed the quickness and athletic ability the Panthers talked about when they selected him, particularly when he chased down the player near the sideline on an end-around for no gain in the first quarter. He's definitely an upgrade to the four-man rotation.
Nailed it: Andy Lee's first punt as a member of the Panthers went 37 yards to the Pittsburgh 8, where it was downed. Lee is ninth all time in the NFL on punts inside the 20 with 325. Carolina traded a fourth-round pick in 2018 and untested Kasey Redfern to Cleveland on Monday for Lee and a 2017 seventh-round pick. It came at a costly salary cap figure, but already it looks like a good acquisition.