Rivera eager to find more young contributors

INDIANAPOLIS – After Carolina's 2014 draft class enjoyed so much success, it is easy to understand why head coach Ron Rivera is so eager to see how the 2015 draft will unfold for the Panthers. "Last year, we had 22 young guys on the roster – whether on the practice squad or the active 53 – and of those 22, we had 16 contribute directly," Rivera said Thursday at the NFL Scouting Combine. "We feel like that was a really good number of guys that helped us, and the other six contributed as well because the practice squad guys gave us a good look.

"We felt really confident in and comfortable with our young guys. It would be great to be able to repeat that. I don't know if we can, but you'd like to get that again from the young guys that are here."

Rivera agreed with general manager Dave Gettleman's assessment of the depth at offensive tackle and wide receiver and believes the Panthers will have plenty of strong options to choose from.

"We feel really good about the group of young men that are coming out for this draft, and we look forward to watching them the next few days," Rivera said. "It's deep at specific positions, positions that we're going to take a real good, long look at."

CAM ON POSITIVE PATH: Rivera said he recently met Cam Newton in Charlotte and came away excited about the franchise quarterback's health and overall well-being after an immensely challenging 2014 season.

"He feels really good for the first time in a long time," Rivera said. "He feels very, very good. The ankle, the one he had surgically repaired, he feels really good about. The ribs don't bother him. The back doesn't seem to bother him.

"He's gone back to school (Auburn University) and should graduate this semester actually, so we're very excited and proud for Cam. He's started his offseason program. He's done a great job of staying focused and preparing. I'm very proud of the young man, because last year I felt like he took a very big step the second half of the season."

BACKING BOSTON: The release of safety Thomas DeCoud on Tuesday was an endorsement of rookie safety Tre Boston, who replaced the veteran in the starting lineup late in the season.

"It is," Rivera said. "With Tre stepping up and playing the way he did down the stretch, we felt it was an opportunity to make a move."

LEFT TACKLE SITUATION: One position where Carolina may make a move this season is left tackle. Rivera reiterated that all options are being evaluated with last year's starter Byron Bell set to become a free agent on March 10.

"There are a lot of things that are going to play into it – the guys that are out there in free agency, the guys that are in the draft and obviously Byron himself," Rivera said. "He did some good things down the stretch, and these are all things we're looking at and considering."

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