NFL: Rivera wraps up tougher-than-expected Panthers camp
SPARTANBURG, S.C. — Carolina Panthers first-year coach Ron Rivera wrapped up what he termed a hectic, but successful training camp Wednesday at Wofford College.
With the NFL lockout late in getting resolved, Rivera and his staff were forced to make late adjustments to their practice schedule to accommodate the new rules of the collective bargaining agreement. That put even more pressure on a new coaching staff trying to install new schemes on offense and defense after missing 24 offseason practices.
“From the time that they agreed to terms (on a new collective bargaining agreement) and we went through free agency and getting our guys signed, and then getting our draft picks signed to trying to reschedule practices the way practices needed to be done, it was all pretty hectic,” Rivera said. “But I think our coaches handled it very well.
“They did a great job. I can’t say enough about what our coaching staff did in the last four weeks. And I say four weeks because, really, that’s what we had to do. We had barely a week to plan and put everything together and then almost three weeks here.”
During that span, the Panthers managed to win their preseason opener against the New York Giants 20-10 and get a lot installed.
Veteran offensive tackle Jordan Gross said he’s surprised at how much the team was able to install in less than three weeks, saying he wouldn’t have thought it was possible.
“Time flew by,” Gross said. “We’ve started fast and we installed all the way through. I think it went well. Coach Rivera definitely held a tougher camp than I expected, but I think we needed it and it was very productive.”
Gross said he’s been impressed with Rivera’s approach, saying he isn’t someone who needs the spotlight on him and is willing to delegate authority and listen to others.
“He lets his coaches coach,” Gross said. “He lets all of the position coaches do their job, but at the same time he runs a very organized tight ship and keeps a high level of expectations.”
Linebacker James Anderson said players relate well to Rivera because he played in the National Football League for 10 seasons with the Chicago Bears and won a Super Bowl.
“He knows the game and he know when to rest players and when to give them work,” Anderson said. “When you have a guy who has played the game there’s an immediate mutual respect. He treats players fair and you can tell players appreciate it.”
Rivera finished off camp with a team building exercise after the final practice.
He challenged players to decide whether rookie kicker Adi Kunalic would make a 62-yard field goal on his first and only attempt. Those who chose correctly wouldn’t have to attend team meetings Wednesday night. When Rivera noticed players unanimously voted Kunalic would make the kick he called off the competition and gave everyone the night off, much to the delight of players.
Rivera said he had a feeling it would work out that way.
“Nobody wanted to take the bet,” Rivera said. “They stayed behind their teammate. That’s a good step, I think it is.”
Rivera said the team will finish installation of their offensive and defensive schemes next week, right around the time he’ll name his starting quarterback for the regular season.
Rivera announced rookie Cam Newton will start Friday night’s preseason opener at Miami.
“The thing I was really proud of is we found a way to teach these guys how we want things done, and they’ve accepted that,” Rivera said. “Now, we’ve just got to continue and maintain that. The thing that was exciting was we had a short period of time, and I think our guys have grasped a lot of the concepts in terms of what we want to do offensively, defensively and special teams. It was a big step. We’re heading in the right direction. But as I tell the guys, it’s a journey of a thousand steps, and we’ve only taken a few.”
The Associated Press