Just three weeks into the season and the Carolina Panthers are already halfway to their entire win total from a season ago. Carolina can look no further than the changes they made in the offseason as to why they’ve been able to have early success. Their new head coach Ron Rivera had a few stops in Chicago, Philadelphia, and San Diego following his playing days with the Chicago Bears, but finally got the break he has been waiting for and has done a good job getting his team ready despite a shortened offseason. It helps that he was able to start his tenure with a new franchise quarterback in Carolina. The Panthers used the first pick in the draft on Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton and Cam has looked like the real deal. Amidst all the scrutiny and all the pressure, Newton has embraced it and has used it as fuel en route to the greatest start ever by a rookie quarterback.
Fresh off his first win as a head coach in the NFL, Rivera and his rookie quarterback will be returning to the place where his NFL career got started as a player and where he was let go of as a defensive coordinator. The Panthers will take on the Chicago Bears and what better place for Rivera to tie last year’s win total for the Panthers than in the windy city.
Ron Rivera joined WSCR in Chicago with the McNeil and Spiegel Show to talk about what has impressed him about Cam Newton, how tough it was for him as a first year coach to have a shortened offseason, if his relationship with Lovie Smith is a positive one, and what it has meant to the team to have Steve Smith playing so well.
What has been so impressive about Cam Newton:
“I think first of all his poise and composure. He handles situations very, very well. He also is a great student of the game. I do mean that in terms of the young man is studying and learning how to be a pro. He understands that Mondays you come in, you review the game you just played, now you start getting ready for your opponent in the evening, he takes tape home, and he’s in today. On Tuesdays. It’s his day off but he comes in, stops up, visits with the coaches, and gets a feel for what we want to do and how we want to attack our next opponent. He really has been great. He’s been great with his teammates. I think when you go through the scouting process and hear all these things that people want to put out there about people and then you do your homework, investigate, and you get a good feel for the young man. I think he’s exactly what we thought he was going to be.”
How tough it was to be a first year head coach with a shortened offseason:
“Piece of cake. (Laughing) It was different. I’m telling you because the big thing that we had to do, every week or couple of weeks that would go by I would have to redo the schedule because of the way we wanted to install things, the way we wanted to have mini-camps and OTA’s. So every couple of weeks and every time we got a new deadline we would sit there and I would have to go through with the coaches how do we want to do installation? What do we want to push back? What do we want to take out? Those were the things that we constantly went through and I counted up, I had written basically ten schedules. As we finished out last week of training camp, I think it was either Monday or Tuesday of that week, I went back and counted it up, we were where we should’ve been at the end of mini-camps and OTA period. We had gotten our 1500th snap. That’s basically what you get during OTA’s and mini-camps. We missed out on a lot in terms of our development but what we were able to do during training camp I think really helped us in terms of getting ready because we eliminated all the excess and went into the meat and core of what we do.”
If he still has a good relationship with Bears Head Coach Lovie Smith:
“Yes very much so. I’ve said it before, this was all football. As long as it’s not a personal thing or issue like that it’s all football business. We just go on about our business and do the things we do. I’m looking forward to it. I really am. Plus there were some guys that were there when I was there. Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs, Chris Harris is back. These are super guys. Roberto Garza. These are guys that I’ve gotten to know and I was with for awhile. The coaching staff, I still know a lot of those guys there. I’m not shying away from the fact that this is a big one for me. I really feel it. These games are all big, but for me it has a little something extra because it is Chicago.”
On Steve Smith’s season:
“The guy is a pro and he wants to win so bad. Last year was tough on him as it was on all of his teammates. These guys want to win and that’s the thing that we have to understand is that these players want to be coached, they want to be led, but they want to win. Steve is right up there with the best of them. Now I will say this though in terms of ability and skill the kid is a wow. For his age I think people figure he’s on the decline but we have not seen it. I mean he’s exploded onto the scene with he and Cam having a great rapport so far. They’ve made some big plays for us obviously giving us a chance to win football games. In all three of them we’ve had a chance to win a football game and thank goodness we finally got it done last weekend.”