PHOENIX – Everyone wants to know right now who will be playing where on the Panthers’ offensive line. But it’s March. The start of the season is still five and a half months away. So left tackle, right tackle, left guard – those roles will eventually be defined. But there’s plenty left to play out.
“I think we'll have a really clear idea once we get past the first few weeks of OTAs and minicamp. We are in a really good position with our veteran guys,” head coach Ron Rivera said Tuesday morning at the NFL’s annual league meeting. “Look at Daryl (Williams) and Taylor (Moton) – we've got to decide which guys can play what. You look at what we have with Trai (Turner), and you solidify with Matt (Paradis) – signing him and feeling good about him at center. We had a guy in Greg (Van Roten) that played tremendously well for us at left guard. So there's not really a lot of concern.
“Probably the biggest question mark is who we're going to work toward to the left tackle position. But we feel good about the candidates.”
When pressed about who would get the first look at left tackle, Rivera wouldn’t commit to Williams or Moton.
“We're going to talk about a lot of these things when we get back April 1,” Rivera said. “Being able to get Daryl back was a little bit of a surprise, but a very pleasant surprise. So we feel really good about that conversation that we're going to have.”
The Panthers clearly prioritized improving the offensive line this offseason. In a copycat league, last year’s 10-6 Colts provided an example of how much it helps when you fortify protection around a franchise quarterback coming back from shoulder problems.
“What Indianapolis did revamping that offensive line was tremendous,” Rivera said, “and I think some people are going to take their cue from them in terms of what they did and how they did it.”
But a big part of what the Colts did cost them the sixth overall pick in the draft on guard Quenton Nelson. So just because the Panthers feel they can roll with the guys they have right now, that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t use a resource like their 16th overall pick in next month’s draft to further improve the O-line.
“We feel very comfortable going into the season with the guys we have currently, but we're not going to stop there,” Rivera said. “If there's a couple guys in free agency we can still get, we want to bring them in. If there's somebody out there sitting there looking at us that we should draft, we're probably gonna draft. We're going to look at all our positions, all our options and we'll go into the draft with that kind of attitude.”
Meanwhile, here are a few other topics Rivera touched on:
On quarterback Cam Newton’s rehab from an arthroscopic shoulder procedure:
“Everything's been good. We're really pleased with his workouts. The reports we've gotten have been all positive. I look forward to seeing him soon, but just very happy that things are trending in the right direction. … I can't give you a time frame. I think that'd be unfair because you don't want to put pressure and force anybody to do something they're not ready for. So I'm going to stay away from time frames.”
On what he liked about the Paradis signing:
“I liked how smart he is. When he came in to sign his contract, we had a chance to spend time with him. Coach (John) Matsko had an opportunity to sit down and really gauge his football intelligence. That was really good to see. I liked how tenacious he is as a player on tape. You see him finish guys off, a lot like a Ryan Kalil – and he's athletic like Ryan. To be honest, a lot of things that I did when I watched his tape is I compared him to Ryan. And I really thought he was very close to what Ryan does.”
On re-signing Williams:
“Daryl was really fired up about coming back. It's kind of a prove-it for him. I know he missed last season – truly missed it. He and his wife came in and we had an opportunity to sit down and talked with them both. He's fired up about it, so I'm real happy for him. I look forward to seeing him when we get back.”
On wide receiver Curtis Samuel:
“He's got a high ceiling. He's got tremendous football skill. He's got great football knowledge. He understands the game. He's competitive and he wants to succeed. You watch his work ethic – it's impressive. You see him going before practice to catch balls. You see him catching balls after practice. He's got coaches that stay after and throw the ball to him. It reminds me a little bit of what Josh Norman learned to do during his career and I thought that was really impressive.”
On adding veteran linebacker/defensive end Bruce Irvin:
“We're losing the heart and soul of our team in a guy like Thomas Davis. You have to bring in a guy that has that kind of reputation, and Bruce has that. Bruce is one of those leadership-type guys that will come in and will help these young guys understand what it takes. Here's a guy that's had a tremendous amount of success in his career, who's been part of a Super Bowl winner and a team that went back. So I'm excited about having him there. His ability and who he is, his position flexibility, it's going to play into some of the things that I'd like to see us do in terms of even fronts versus odd fronts.”
On whether safety Rashaan Gaulden will also get reps at nickel back:
“That's very much something we're going to take a real long look at. Obviously, not bringing Captain (Munnerlyn) back has really put us in the position where we've got a couple young guys that we've really got to look at and give opportunities to. That's pretty much what prompted it when you've got Rashaan Gaulden, who excelled at it in college, and you've got Corn Elder – and we all saw in the preseason, who played the nickel position and really excelled for us.”
On cornerbacks Ross Cockrell and Kevon Seymour, who each missed 2018 with injuries:
“I think both those guys have been doing a great job rehabbing, from the reports I get. Very happy about their progress and I do look forward to having them both back out there. Ross Cockrell was having a tremendous camp until he unfortunately got hurt. Kevon has some tremendous upside in terms of his speed and his ability, so we're excited to get both those guys back healthy. Hopefully it'll be a lot sooner than later.”
On what he’s learned from owner David Tepper:
“The value of numbers. He's a numbers guy, so when you talk about the analytics of football, taking the time to step back and look at those things and analyze some of the data we have and how to best use it. Everything from the GPS the players are wearing, all the Next Gen Stats we get, to the analytics of fourth-down plays.”