October 9, 2011; Atlanta, GA, USA; Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera looks on at the game against the Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome. The Falcons beat the Panthers 31-17. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Shirey-US PRESSWIRE

Rivera's Strategy

Ron Rivera’s going on only his first full season as a Head Coach and now 2 drafts, but they speak volumes in a number of ways.

Here is his first draft class:

1 1 Cam Newton QB Auburn
3 65 Terrell McClain DT South Florida
3 97 Sione Fua DT Stanford
4 98 Brandon Hogan CB West Virginia
5 132 Kealoha Pilares WR Hawaii
6 166 Lawrence Wilson LB Connecticut
6 203 Zack Williams C Washington State
7 244 Lee Ziemba T Auburn

This year’s draft of Kuechly, Sitatolu, Alexander, Adams, Norman, Nortman, and Campbell was added and there’s been a little time to digest things.

Hogan was just coming back from an injury when the season ended, and we didn’t draft another DT to help what we have.

Either Rivera knows the young group we have will make leaps and bounds this year, it’ll be up to Kuechly to at least slow down the run enough to not make it so easy as last year.

Other than Cam, last year’s draft doesn’t appear to be encouraging so far. It’s often hard to tell for sure in only one year as Hogan is a prime example why.


On a positive side, this year’s draft does look quite promising in comparison. Kuechly looks to be about as clean and safe a pick as there is at pick nine and is a tackling machine that can also pass cover. I think he’s a perfect fit as a 4-3 MLB with his resume’ and athletic ability and leadership qualities who could probably play any LB position if called upon. I think Rivera wants a guy like Mike Singletary to lead his defense. It just seems to reflect what he’s lived, and that ’86 Bears D was pretty darned good. We’ll see.

Rivera’s seen his share of rookies come and go from a player’s and coach’s perspective now. Since he took no DTs this draft, he’s either satisfied with the young talent he has or is too proud to draft the position so highly so soon. Perhaps he’s counting a lot on Kuechly being a guy like Singletary who can call the signals, make the plays, and be a natural team leader. That type of MLB is in a perfect position to lift everybody’s level of play by example.

Injuries at Linebacker can be especially bad on a defense overall. If every few weeks there is a different guy trying to learn new assignments or a different person is calling signals it makes for terrible team continuity.

It would be like going to your own job and having the same job but a different boss about every month. Your job is probably hard enough without having to break in a new boss every month.

An NFL team is no different. Part of the success of the whole is not only each of the 11 individuals knowing and carrying out their jobs. Part of it is knowing and trusting each of the “other” 10 guys that you’re on the field with do know their jobs and can act as a cohesive force.

Youth in and of itself acts against both of these things until rookies prove themselves on the field and come together as a team. Even Mario Williams has to some degree prove to his Bills teammates that he knows their system through his play. With Super Mario’s reputation, those concerns will be minimal since the systems are similar.

But Rookies don’t have any “NFL reputation” to go on! They’re rookies!

They do have “expectations” however, and Kuechly seems to be what Rivera’s looking for. AFter that…we’ll see.

Just as Cam was the best “insta-fix” for a dour offense, Kuechly (along with a hopefully healthier LB corps) is going to be asked to be that guy at least for the rush defense.

We’re still looking for that “fix” for the pass defense, and that’s going to be more complicated.

Chris Gamble is the best out of a group of otherwise average defensive backs. Hogan needs to become the Comeback Corner and Campbell needs to enter the league like a Soup Nazi for the secondary to be any better in coverage this year. Instead, Rivera opted to go with a pass-rusher they stumbled across on Oklahoma film while scouting someone else. They traded up to get the DE they liked (Alexander) because that’s the best way to do it. You stop the run, rush the passer, then if you can you fill in the #2 CB and the safety spots…unless a particularly great safety prospect falls to you, which has not happened so far under Rivera.

Cam took away any chance at catching that “steal” as he was their only pick in the top 65 last year. Luke K. at MLB 1st this year. A pass-rusher and a KR/WR weapon. Joe Adams, the WR/KR from Arkansas, could be a real key if he’s as explosive as he showed in college. Some translate and others don’t for some reason and it’s likely Adams plays a lot faster than his 4.55-40 Combine time would indicate. The Combine track seems slower than most for some reason.

Contract situations aside, if next year’s draft needs are, “WR, OT, TE, S” then that probably means things are progressing. Year 3 should increase the talent in the secondary, thereby decreasing opposing QBs margin for error. Upgrade the RT spot with someone durable and even the LT spot could be better. Maybe add in a new OLB to round out the 2013 draft and that would complete the apparent plan.

For now, we’ve but to wait for Act II to unfold.

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Tags: Cam Newton Carolina Panthers DJ Campbell Joe Adams Luke Kuechly Ron Rivera

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