NFL: Panthers coach upbeat
FORT BRAGG ó As Carolina Panthers players organized a week of workouts, their new coach was forced to find out secondhand how they went.
ěGuys who have been able to go out and see them have been able to tell me some really nice things about our guys,î Ron Rivera said Friday. ěThey say, ëCoach, theyíre working hard. Itís good to see. They have 54 guys out there.í
Of course, it would be stupendous for Rivera if there wasnít a labor dispute and he was the one working out his players. Instead, the first-year head coach is part of one of the most bizarre NFL offseasons. The lockout has prevented his new staff from meeting with players, installing the new offense and defense, signing needed free agents and getting raw rookies up to speed.
Itís bad for all teams, but itís worse for teams with new coaches. Itís even worse if that coach is preparing for his first season in charge of an NFL team. It gets to the ridiculous stage when the team that coach is taking over went an NFL-worst 2-14 last season and may be about to start a rookie quarterback in Cam Newton.
ěI am anxious about that, most certainly,î Rivera said after meeting U.S. Army troops at Fort Bragg. ěBut everybody will have the same set of circumstances, situations. Weíre just going to have to make sure when we do it, we do it the right way and weíre ready to go when the time comes.î
Itís hard to squash Riveraís seemingly endless optimism. The former San Diego Chargers defensive coordinator likes to find the positives in everything, so he stressed how impressed he was that so many of his new players organized workouts on their own at a Charlotte high school that are scheduled to run through Thursday.
ěIím very proud of them, just that weíve had some guys step up and show some leadership, taking charge,î Rivera said. ěTheyíve taken ownership, which I think is very important. I think itís part of growing as a team.î
But while the players were able to get playbooks the one day the lockout was lifted in April and the league opened for business, thereís a limit to how much players can learn on their own.
ěYou can see the Xís and Oís and name and where this is going,î said retired defensive end Mike Rucker, now a television analyst for Carolinaís preseason games. ěBut thereís still going to be little things that the coaches have to explain to you. When youíre dropping into coverage, this might be a little hairy. Heís got to define that for you.î
ěItís going to be a challenge.î
Rivera said his staff have completed all the notes to install the offense and defense. Theyíre finished putting together the red zone, short yardage and goal line offenses. Theyíve studied their first five opponents and their division foes.
Theyíve even made contingency plans if the lockout is lifted and thereís only a few weeks until the season starts.
ěAs it goes along, it will change our approach,î Rivera said of an extended lockout.
But Rivera needs players to work with ó and players to stock up the roster.
Rivera would like to add a veteran defensive linemen, linebacker and defensive back. He thinks the offensive line will be OK ó as long as right tackle Jeff Otah comes back from his knee injury. Heís happy with the running backs and tight ends.
But there are big questions at quarterback. Rivera said Matt Moore, who began last season as the starter, could possibly be re-signed. Rivera wants to sign a veteran to work with Newton and Jimmy Clausen.
And Rivera acknowledged they must ěresolve the wide receiver position.î
That means figuring out what to do with four-time Pro Bowl pick Steve Smith, whom Rivera acknowledged has expressed misgivings about returning. But Rivera said trading or releasing him is ěnot a foregone conclusion.î
ěOne thing I did tell Steve is that weíll make a decision that we feel is best for the team,î Rivera said. ěand at the same time keeping him in serious consideration for what he would like.î
Of course, Rivera canít do anything with Smith because of the lockout. He canít watch his players work out. He canít fill out his roster.
He canít start the biggest job of his life.
ěI canít sit there and worry what I canít control,î Rivera said. ěFor me, the biggest thing is when it does break weíre all going to be in the same boat.î
Mike Cranston can be reached at http://twitter.com/MikeCranston1.
The Associated Press