Rivera to play youngsters amid own job uncertainty

Panthers coach Ron Rivera isn’t overly concerned with his

tenuous job security, saying he’s committed to playing younger

players the next four weeks so he can prepare to coach them next

season.

Whether he’ll get that opportunity remains to be seen.

With the Panthers 3-9 and coming off a loss to the NFL-worst

Kansas City Chiefs, Rivera’s clearly on the hot seat.

”People say, `Oh you’re just getting them ready for the next

coach.’ Well, I think I’m getting them ready for me,” Rivera said.

”I could be wrong but I’m not going to worry about that.”

The second-year coach said his goal is to win the next four

games, beginning this Sunday when the Panthers host Matt Ryan

against the Atlanta Falcons.

But he’s quick to add ”at the same time, we’ve got to be able

to do it with these young guys. If we don’t play these guys, we’ll

go into next season with the same questions.”

Rivera is well-liked by his staff and employees at Panthers

headquarters, but his team has struggled to find success

particularly in close games leaving questions about his ability to

manage games down the stretch.

The Panthers are 9-19 under Rivera overall and are 1-12 in games

decided by seven points or less.

When general manager Marty Hurney was fired after a 1-5 start to

the season, Rivera said he had a conversation with team owner Jerry

Richardson and was informed the team needs to be ”trending

upward” the rest of the season.

But the Panthers are just 2-4 since Hurney’s departure and

they’ve suffered some tough losses since, including a 27-21 defeat

to the Chiefs.

Kansas City entered the game 1-10 on the season.

Carolina also blew an 11-point fourth quarter lead against

division rival Tampa Bay and lost in overtime.

Rivera said he’s not had any recent conversations with

Richardson, but still expects to at least finish out the

season.

”The last time I talked with him things were good in terms of

the things I needed to do,” Rivera said. ”I understood the

situation and the circumstances and he’s been very fair and open

about this.”

Richardson was unavailable for comment Monday.

Rivera started playing rookies more after the team’s playoff

hopes began to dissipate.

Three rookies – linebacker Luke Kuechly, offensive guard Amini

Silatolu and cornerback Josh Norman – have started all season, but

in recent weeks defensive end Frank Alexander, cornerback Josh

Thomas and defensive tackle Nate Chandler have seen increased

playing time.

Second-year defensive tackle Sione Fua is back in the starting

lineup and Rivera is giving rookie punt returner Joe Adams a shot

after he fumbled away his opportunities earlier in the season.

”We have some good young talent that is playing and developing

more and more,” Rivera said. ”As we go forward you can say yes,

we’ve played a lot of the young guys and seen some good things from

them. We know some of these young guys can play as we look forward

to next year. So that’s a big plus.”

Second-year quarterback Cam Newton, in particular, has impressed

Rivera of late.

In the past three weeks, last year’s AP Offensive Rookie of the

Year has completed 49 of 84 passes for 790 yards with six

touchdowns and no interceptions.

He had three touchdown passes in the loss to Kansas City.

”His outlook on things, the way he perceives things and the way

he’s handled himself the last few weeks has been outstanding,”

Rivera said. ”He’s played very well and given us chances to win.

We have to take advantage of that.”

As for trending up, Rivera said he believes there are some areas

that have improved despite the team’s record, but clearly more

improvement is needed.

”I think there are some positions that definitely have to be

looked at and evaluated,” Rivera said. ”… We have an

opportunity to play Atlanta and a chance to play New Orleans in our

division and that’s a chance to send a message.”