CHARLOTTE – Head coach Ron Rivera is a big fan of Monday Night Football commentator Jon Gruden.
When the Panthers play on Monday night, part of Rivera's review of the game involves listening to Gruden's insightful remarks.
"He's a junkie. He loves everything about football," Rivera said. "I love to listen to guys like him, because they're going to tell you something you may miss or something you didn't think about."
After the ESPN broadcast crew finished their production meetings with players and coaches at Bank of America Stadium on Saturday, Panthers.com sat down with Gruden to discuss a number of topics ahead of Carolina's matchup against Miami.
On Cam Newton in 2017: "Not only did he miss a lot of training camp, he missed a lot of practice time during the season, and that's not a recipe for success. I think a lot of the ups and downs they've had are a direct result of that. Lack of timing, lack of execution. Then you take Greg Olsen out of the mix, and I mean, that guy does it all. Then you lose your center (Ryan Kalil), and you've got rookies playing big parts in your offense. So the ups and downs are understandable, honestly.
"But Cam looks like he's on his way back, with those 2015 bells ringing again."
On the Kelvin Benjamin trade: "I think it's understandable. You had two guys that were very similar in the way they play. You want guys that are different. You want quickness and speed on the field – and that's not Benjamin or Funchess. Benjamin had his moments and he had times where he struggled. They see something in Curtis Samuel and they want to get that second-round pick on the field."
On Christian McCaffrey: "I know a lot about him because I know where he came from. (Stanford head coach) David Shaw is one of my really good friends. Christian is like that movie "The Natural." With a great player, you show him what to do and he does it the first time perfectly, and he does it at full speed. He's just got a natural style. He's extremely talented. He's got that passion to be great. I think we're going to see this guy go off in the second half – I've got a feeling."
On Carolina's run game: "They're going to have to block better. It's not all about Stewart and McCaffrey. This is a gap-and-trap offense that can smash you. Trai Turner is a Pro Bowl guard. They've got to see if Tyler Larsen can take it to another level. Can Matt Kalil reach another level? Is Daryl Williams the real deal? And they miss Olsen here. I think they miss him big time."
On Julius Peppers: "I walked in here today and I saw Peppers and almost threw up. I had to go in the bathroom. I've got memories coaching against him. We tried to chip him, we tried to nudge him with tight ends. Then he'd go line up over the guard. Next play he'd be on the other side. Pretty soon I thought there were two Peppers. I was head coach for 11 years. The guy that sacked my quarterbacks the most was Peppers.
"When (former Panthers head coach John) Fox took him with the second pick I was mad for three weeks … But what I love about it is he's back where it started. They loved him in Green Bay and in Chicago and they love him here. I asked the players. And it would be cool if they could deliver a championship for him."
On Carolina's defense: "When we won our championship we had a great defense. We had the steam up front, which they do here. They can rush the passer. And they've got a hell of a scheme. (Defensive coordinator) Steve Wilks has done a nice job. And they've got these guys nobody even talks about.
"This kid Shaq Thompson? He's a joker. He's a nickel, he's a linebacker. I don't know what the heck he is. Nobody even talks about him. He's a hell of a player. And they got some guy named Mario Addison. You've got to put him in the discussion for the Pro Bowl.
"But the whole group plays with such great effort and such great energy. So many blue-chip veteran players. They have tremendous pride. They make more high-profile effort plays than anybody. They lead the league in effort. I care about that stuff. When I'm in my dark room in Tampa and I'm watching the Panthers, I get excited. Man, I'm yelling at myself, 'Damn! Wow! Woo!' You know?"