CHARLOTTE – As has been made clear over the past few days, head coach Ron Rivera has always been very involved with the Panthers defense.
But Wednesday’s practice – the first since he announced he would take over as defensive play-caller – felt a tad unusual.
“It was different. A little exciting,” Rivera said. “They (players) wanted me to run around a little bit more, but I have my own pace and they have to understand that. I’m not as spry as I used to be.”
Rivera and first-year defensive coordinator Eric Washington are collaborating on the plan for Sunday’s game against the Browns, but Rivera is in effect coordinating the defense.
Washington is tasked with managing the front seven and Rivera said he’ll be spending extra time with the secondary, which is exactly what he did Wednesday.
“I’m used to walking kind of a circle around practice from one side to the other,” Rivera said. “For the most part I stayed on one side of the field and I was hanging around with the defensive backs an awful lot today.”
The practice routine is clearly different for Rivera in this new role he’s taken on.
The game day procedure will also have some new wrinkles with Rivera spending more time communicating with the defense when they are dissecting what took place on the previous series. Rivera experienced some of that when he took over as play-caller during last week’s game against the Buccaneers.
“In talking with coaches that do call offense or defensive plays, they’ve told me that every now and then something will happen that you don’t get a chance to see,” Rivera said. “Now you are trying to figure out, do I have to challenge this or what? I have to make sure that the coaches in the (press) box are aware so if we have to (challenge) they can tell me one way or the other.
“One other thing I have to keep in mind too – I can’t go after the referees a little bit verbally like I typically do. In all honesty that happened a couple times, and Eric was right there and he was able to get the calls in for me. I disagreed with a couple calls (by the officials), so I wanted to make sure I got my opportunity to say my peace. At the same time I have to remember I have the next play I need to keep my eye out for.”
Rivera put his own unique stamp on the defense versus the Bucs, surprising members of the defense with a play that wasn’t part of the original game plan.
“There was a call that we didn’t practice all week that came in and we were like, ‘Whoa.’ Then they told us he had called that play, which was I think a no-gain play,” said Reid, who added that he made the tackle. “We knew something was up when that happened.”
The Panthers hope that play, and the play of the defense in the fourth quarter when they forced four consecutive punts, is a sign of things to come with Rivera more involved.
“He’s always sat in on our meetings, he’s just been a little more vocal lately, which I think can be beneficial,” Reid said. “We’ll see what happens.”