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The last game of the preseason typically is reserved for the reserves.

This year, however, it’s just as important that the starters start strong.

Head coach Ron Rivera wants to see signs of progress from top to bottom when the Panthers wraps up their preseason schedule Thursday against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Bank of America Stadium (8 p.m., Panthers TV).

“With that first bunch, I want to see good communication, good operations and then get them off the field,” Rivera said. “With the young guys, you’re looking for progress. You think about where they were two or three weeks ago and then you try to see where they are now.

“The Steelers are a Super Bowl-caliber team, and you want to be able to come out and match them. If you can make a really good showing – and I’m not just saying show up, but I’m talking about going out and playing with these guys – then you’ve shown progress.”

Rivera wants his starting groups – especially the offense – to have a couple of good series early to develop confidence heading into the regular season. After that, it will be about the reserves, with the Panthers having to cut the roster from 80 entering the game down to 53 by 6 p.m. on Saturday.

“Those guys that are all in the heated battles for the second and third positions, we’d love to see somebody step up and really play well,” Rivera said. “I think it’s time some of those guys separate themselves, and a lot of those guys will get some extended playing time and be given the opportunity to do that.”

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