Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Rivera impressive in Panthers' debut

Ron Rivera won the press conference Tuesday. He spoke of how his Panthers players have to conduct themselves appropriately off the field, how his Latino heritage was a source of pride, and how his life in a military family - his father served for 32 years - helped shape him with a sense of determination and disciplline.

Perhaps most significantly, though, he spoke of bringing a tough level of play to the Panthers. Carolina has sought that from the beginning, from Dom Capers to George Seifert to John Fox and now Rivera. It's no accident every Panthers coach has come up on the defensive side.

"I’d like to be an aggressive, physical football team,” Rivera said, his voice rising. He expressed disdain for players who want to hit with their helmets and be otherwise fundamentally unsound. “I want to get back to tackling. I want to have a physical, no nonsense, get the job done identity.

"I think that’s important. I saw tape of the [Panthers] guys trying to give their best. I was pleasantly surprised."

Still, Carolina was far from being a dominant team last season. The defense just doesn't have many great players, and an offense that once could grind it out with the running game just floundered.

Rivera spoke highly of his new players. He described the offensive line as "solid," praised Steve Smith's abilities, said he was impressed by the young receivers and of course liked the talent and depth at running back. He also said Jimmy Clausen would get the early nod as the starter, although the new offensive coordinator and new quarterbacks coach would have input.

For a man who had been passed over for multiple jobs in the past, Rivera showed a sense of command and assurance. The toughness angle was significant - the Panthers aren't going to turn into the NFL's version of the Oregon Ducks.

But don't make a mistake about this - Ron Rivera has a tough job with a franchise long on hope and short on talent.

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