SPARTANBURG, S.C. – Head coach Ron Rivera will miss the first weekend of training camp to deal with a sad family matter, but Rivera's football family sent him off on an uplifting note.
In front of a large and enthusiastic crowd at Gibbs Stadium, Rivera liked what he saw from his team in its first training camp practice Friday evening. Rivera will miss practice Saturday and Sunday to attend funeral services in Reno, Nev., for his brother, Mickey, who died Tuesday at the age of 56.
Rivera thanked Panthers fans for buoying his spirits with well-wishes and for helping make the Lowe's Kickoff Party and subsequent practice a rousing success.
"I appreciate the sentiments of our fans," Rivera said. "There was a lot of energy, and a big part of it they drew from our crowd. We had a nice group of folks come out to watch our first practice, and the guys responded.
"I liked the tempo out there. I was real pleased with what I saw with the offensive line and also with the defense. I'm also real excited about we got from the quarterbacks. Cam (Newton) did a nice job of orchestrating things, and D.A. (Derek Anderson) looked good, as did Joe Webb. It was a good start to training camp."
Rivera is confident Carolina can keep the momentum going in his absence. Assistant head coach Steve Wilks will take the reins until Rivera's expected return shortly after Sunday's morning practice.
"Steve and I have already talked, and I've already given him all of the practice plans," Rivera said. "I told him, 'Hey, the biggest thing is to make it you. If you want to change some things, adjust some things, go ahead.' I have a lot of confidence in Steve."
Wilks, who doubles as secondary coach, was without one of his top players Friday. Second-year cornerback Bene Benwikere sat out practice to heal a hamstring injury that has lingered since organized team activities in mid-June. Also, running back Jordan Todman left practice with what Rivera described as a stomach bug.
With fans and media alike enjoying a front row seat to practices throughout training camp (Saturday's practice is scheduled for a 3:10 p.m. start), Rivera warned against jumping to conclusion based on who runs out with the first team.
While he did label the starting offensive line as "settled" at this point, he said Frank Alexander's work with the first team alongside established defensive end Charles Johnson didn't mean that Alexander had an upper hand over other suitors like Mario Addison, Kony Ealy and Wes Horton.
It's something good to keep in mind as camp continues.
"Don't read into that. Tomorrow it will be somebody different," Rivera said. "(Defensive line coach) Eric (Washington) has a pretty good rotation and has in mind how he wants to work those guys.
"After a few days we'll sit down and talk about it, and who knows, we might have a pecking order by that result."
Hopefully in a few days, some normalcy will return for Rivera as he works his way through a stressful time.