INDIANAPOLIS Despite a season that saw three teams make the playoffs with the zone read in their offensive playbook, the Panthers might be doing less of it.
The Panthers' shift to more vertical passes and traditional, downhill runs began the second half of last season when they won five of their final six games. With former offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski now in Cleveland as the Browns' coach, Panthers coach Ron Rivera said they would keep the zone read as more of a wrinkle than a staple.
“We have it as a mixer,” Rivera said Thursday at the scouting combine. “We have it just enough that coordinators have to pay attention to what we do. I think off of it, we can do so many different things.”
Cam Newton became the first quarterback to lead his team in rushing since Donovan McNabb in 2000. But Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman said the offense was most effective late in the season when it was more traditional.
Gettleman said he doesn't expect the offense to change much under Mike Shula, who was promoted from quarterbacks coach after Chudzinski left.
“The offense that you saw at the end of the year is going to be where we're at. The team closed awful strong,” said Gettleman, the former Giants pro personnel director. “Once they got back to the downhill run game with DeAngelo and throwing vertical, play-action, I think that's what you're going to see. It's basically similar to what we did in New York.”
“I think a read option is an option,” Gettleman added. “But at the end of the day your quarterback has to make plays from the pocket. And if he can't, you're going to struggle.”
Man in the middle: Gettleman's press conference got off to a good start when someone lobbed a softball question at him about middle linebacker Luke Kuechly, the AP Defensive Rookie of the Year.
“Very talented, very gifted young player,” Gettleman said. “When you've got a three-down Mike, it's huge. Never comes off the field, lines everybody up. He was a great draft choice by Marty Hurney.”
Kuechly, the No. 9 overall pick last year, began his first season at weakside linebacker before shifting inside when Jon Beason went down with season-ending knee and shoulder injuries. The play of Kuechly and the defense took off when he went to the middle.
Beason told the Panthers' website recently that he is willing to play outside linebacker.
“I'm excited about the potential,” Rivera said. “I thought Thomas Davis and James Anderson having the seasons they did, and Luke Kuechly obviously being Defensive Rookie of the Year, was outstanding. … To have a guy of Jon Beason's caliber back on the football field, that can mean just dynamic things for us on the defense.”
Extra points: Rivera said a recent report that the Panthers offered prospective assistant coaches one-year deals was inaccurate. He said all of his assistants have multi-year contracts.
“Nobody's here on a one-year deal. That was false,” he said. “It was disappointing because the one thing Mr. Richardson has been is supportive. He's allowed us to do things that we need to do the right way to go forward.”
Rivera is on the league's diversity committee, which met Thursday and discussed expanding the Rooney Rule to include coordinators and assistant head coaches after an offseason in which no minority coaches or general managers were hired.
“They're trying to come up with ideas that will help put these guys in better position and get their name out a little bit more,” Rivera said.