New Panthers coach remains upbeat during lockout
As Carolina Panthers players organized a week of workouts, their
new coach was forced to find out secondhand how they went.
”Guys who have been able to go out and see them have been able
to tell me some really nice things about our guys,” Ron Rivera
said Friday. ”They say, ‘Coach, they’re working hard. It’s good to
see. They have 54 guys out there.’
Of course, it would be stupendous for Rivera if there wasn’t a
labor dispute and he was the one working out his players. Instead,
the first-year head coach is part of one of the most bizarre NFL
offseasons. The lockout has prevented his new staff from meeting
with players, installing the new offense and defense, signing
needed free agents and getting raw rookies up to speed.
It’s bad for all teams, but it’s worse for teams with new
coaches. It’s even worse if that coach is preparing for his first
season in charge of an NFL team. It gets to the ridiculous stage
when the team that coach is taking over went an NFL-worst 2-14 last
season and may be about to start a rookie quarterback in Cam
”I am anxious about that, most certainly,” Rivera said after
meeting U.S. Army troops at Fort Bragg. ”But everybody will have
the same set of circumstances, situations. We’re just going to have
to make sure when we do it, we do it the right way and we’re ready
to go when the time comes.”
It’s hard to squash Rivera’s seemingly endless optimism. The
former San Diego Chargers defensive coordinator likes to find the
positives in everything, so he stressed how impressed he was that
so many of his new players organized workouts on their own at a
Charlotte high school that are scheduled to run through
”I’m very proud of them, just that we’ve had some guys step up
and show some leadership, taking charge,” Rivera said. ”They’ve
taken ownership, which I think is very important. I think it’s part
of growing as a team.”
But while the players were able to get playbooks the one day the
lockout was lifted in April and the league opened for business,
there’s a limit to how much players can learn on their own.
”You can see the X’s and O’s and name and where this is
going,” said retired defensive end Mike Rucker, now a television
analyst for Carolina’s preseason games. ”But there’s still going
to be little things that the coaches have to explain to you. When
you’re dropping into coverage, this might be a little hairy. He’s
got to define that for you.”
”It’s going to be a challenge.”
Rivera said his staff have completed all the notes to install
the offense and defense. They’re finished putting together the red
zone, short yardage and goal line offenses. They’ve studied their
first five opponents and their division foes.
They’ve even made contingency plans if the lockout is lifted and
there’s only a few weeks until the season starts.
”As it goes along, it will change our approach,” Rivera said
of an extended lockout.
But Rivera needs players to work with – and players to stock up
Rivera would like to add a veteran defensive linemen, linebacker
and defensive back. He thinks the offensive line will be OK – as
long as right tackle Jeff Otah comes back from his knee injury.
He’s happy with the running backs and tight ends.
But there are big questions at quarterback. Rivera said Matt
Moore, who began last season as the starter, could possibly be
re-signed. Rivera wants to sign a veteran to work with Newton and
And Rivera acknowledged they must ”resolve the wide receiver
That means figuring out what to do with four-time Pro Bowl pick
Steve Smith, whom Rivera acknowledged has expressed misgivings
about returning. But Rivera said trading or releasing him is ”not
a foregone conclusion.”
”One thing I did tell Steve is that we’ll make a decision that
we feel is best for the team,” Rivera said. ”and at the same time
keeping him in serious consideration for what he would like.”
Of course, Rivera can’t do anything with Smith because of the
lockout. He can’t watch his players work out. He can’t fill out his
He can’t start the biggest job of his life.
”I can’t sit there and worry what I can’t control,” Rivera
said. ”For me, the biggest thing is when it does break we’re all
going to be in the same boat.”
Mike Cranston can be reached at