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Strickly Panthers: Rivera reviews roster


CHARLOTTE - We know what the Panthers think of their recently minted head coach, Ron Rivera.

What, however, does Rivera think about the Panthers?

"Having an opportunity to sit down with Mr. Richardson and Marty and Danny and listening to them talk about their commitment to building a winning team and sustaining that, I was very excited about that," Rivera said about the interview process with owner Jerry Richardson, general manager Marty Hurney and president Danny Morrison that led to his hire Tuesday. "I think it fits right along with what my vision is, and that is to help build this team, get it to a Super Bowl caliber level, win, and sustain that."

For the Panthers to reach those goals, they need the plan and the players to do it. Rivera is working on the plan, bringing his aggressive coaching philosophy into play as he works to hire his staff.

He'll soon start working on the players, beginning to form the 2011 roster for a team that is coming off a 2-14 season in 2010.

Rivera, a defensive coach his entire career who played linebacker for the Chicago Bears, has positive initial impressions of that side of the ball. Even with the defense on the field way too much in 2010, playing more than five minutes per game than the offense on average, Carolina's defense ranked a respectable 18th in total defense.

"We can be a solid unit and have success early. I really like the situation that the defense is in," Rivera said. "Looking at the defense, I feel very comfortable."

It's a different story, however, on offense, wherever Carolina mustered just one touchdown for every game played in 2010, ranking last in the NFL in scoring and total yards.

Here's Rivera's take on the pieces already in place.


QUARTERBACK: Rivera was mostly complimentary of the potential the Panthers have on offense, but he didn't beat around the bush in his assessment that the most important position is the one with the biggest question mark.

"When you look at it, I think it's the one position we have to find answers for," Rivera said. "That's one of the things that we need to take a look at on the offensive side."

Rookie Jimmy Clausen started 10 games last season for an offense that averaged a league-low 143.1 yards per game through the air - nearly 40 yards less per game than next-to-last Arizona and less than half the average for league leader Indianapolis.

"We have to see if Jimmy or if there is a quarterback on this roster that can become that franchise guy that you need," Rivera said. "I've been fortunate to be around a franchise quarterback the last four years in Philip Rivers, who is very solid."

Clausen has athletic ability and talent, but Rivera needs time to figure out if Clausen is the answer - and Clausen may need time as well.

"I think it's about his development," Rivera said. "When I played, first and second and third-round picks didn't have to get on the field as fast. Today, there seems to be an urgency to get those guys out there, so what's happening is that they're losing that maturation period where they can sit behind somebody and learn and grow until their opportunity comes.

"Jimmy was forced out there, put into a very tough situation, playing with young guys who hadn't really matured, either. There's a collective thing you have to look at when you look at Jimmy - look at who he's throwing the ball to, who's protecting, who's running."

WIDE RECEIVER: Rivera appears cautiously optimistic about the group to which the Panthers' quarterbacks will throw the ball.

"I like the young wide receivers. I think they're both solid football players," he said, singling out rookies Brandon LaFell and David Gettis by number. "You watch them both play, they're exciting, young guys that will go after the football."

LaFell and Gettis spent the 2010 season learning from veteran wide receiver Steve Smith.

"He's still a dynamic football player. You put a tape on, and he stands out," Rivera said. "He's had a tremendous career. I look forward to the opportunity to visit with him and see how he's doing."


RUNNING BACK: Despite season-ending foot injury suffered by DeAngelo Williams and a significant concussion sustained midseason by Jonathan Stewart - each coming off 1,100-yard seasons – the Panthers ranked 13th in the NFL in rushing.

Stewart bounced back strong, and second-year back Mike Goodson emerged.

"I think the running back situation is solid," Rivera said. "I like all three of the veteran returners. I think these guys are quality football players."

OFFENSIVE LINE: With a pair of Pro Bowlers in left tackle Jordan Gross and center Ryan Kalil, Rivera sees vast potential in the all-important offensive front - if healthy.

Right tackle Jeff Otah missed the entire season with a knee injury, and left guard Travelle Wharton missed half of it with a toe injury. That opened the door for Geoff Schwartz, Garry Williams and Mackenzy Bernadeau.

"A couple of injuries that came up this season took a couple of veterans away, so a lot of young guys had to play - which is important," Rivera said. "Going through what this team had to go through, young guys getting experience is invaluable. It creates either starters or depth.

"On the offensive line, there's going to be some solid depth once we get these injured players back."

TIGHT END: In addition to having one of the NFL's elite quarterbacks in San Diego, Rivera and the Chargers had one of the elite tight ends in Antonio Gates.

In an ideal world, he'd like a Gates-like presence at tight end for the Panthers, who rotated Jeff King, Dante Rosario and Gary Barnidge in 2010.

"Tight end is by committee," Rivera said. "There's three guys there that I like. I think they each have a quality of their own.

"If there's a guy out there - whether it be through the draft, free agency or on our roster - that can become that guy that does it all the time, we have to find him. I think that will help us as an offense."

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