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Carolina Panthers

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Rivera knows task

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  • Defining season ahead for Panthers’ Rivera
  • Rivera discusses drafted rookies
  • Training Camp Schedule

    Fri. 6:15 p.m.

    Sat. 2:30 p.m.

    Sun. 9:30 a.m.

    Mon. 9:15 a.m.

    July 30 9:15 a.m.

    Aug. 1 2:30 p.m.

    Aug. 2 9:15 a.m.

    Aug. 3 3:30 p.m. FanFest*

    Aug. 5 2:30 p.m.

    Aug. 6 9:15 a.m.

    Aug. 7 9:15 a.m.

    Aug. 8 9:15 a.m.

    Aug. 11 6:15 p.m.

    Aug. 12 2:30 p.m.

    Aug. 13 9 a.m.

    *Held at Bank of America Stadium

    • How to get to Wofford College in Spartanburg

    Take I-85 South to exit 72 (I-585). At the end of the exit ramp, turn left toward Spartanburg. Cross over Business I-85. I-585 becomes Pine Street into Spartanburg. After crossing over Business I-85, turn right onto Twitty Street and into training camp at the second stoplight. Free parking is provided at the top of the hill on the right of Twitty Street. The practice fields are on the left.

    Preseason schedule

    Aug. 9 8 p.m. vs. Chicago Bears

    Aug. 15 7:30 p.m. at Philadelphia Eagles

    Aug. 22 8 p.m. at Baltimore Ravens

    Aug. 29 7:30 p.m. vs. Pittsburgh Steelers

    First regular-season game

    Sept. 8: 1 p.m. vs. Seattle Seahawks



Panthers coach Ron Rivera, who had to wait six days last January before learning he would keep his job, was asked Tuesday whether first-year general manager Dave Gettleman had laid out clear expectations for Rivera’s third season.

“Other than winning?” Rivera said. “No.”

During an interview Tuesday at Bank of America Stadium with the Observer, Rivera discussed topics ranging from the development of quarterback Cam Newton as a leader to the health of running back Jonathan Stewart’s ankles to a defensive front seven Rivera expects to be very good.

But as Rivera indicated, the bottom line is winning. And he believes the Panthers are well equipped to do so.

If they don’t, Rivera, 13-19, realizes he might not be back for a fourth season.

“I’m not going to worry about that. If it happens, it happens,” Rivera said. “At the end of the day, I will give my best, I will do my best, I will implore our players to do their best and we’ll let the chips fall where they may.”

In Newton and middle linebacker Luke Kuechly, Rivera sees young, budding stars. By taking defensive tackles Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short with their first two draft picks, Rivera believes the team added quality players to a position group that was the strength of the defense in 2012.

“The big question, obviously, is going to be strong safety,” Rivera said.

But there are others, including what steps Newton needs to make in his third year as a starter.

He has compiled a heap of impressive stats during his two seasons, but since Rivera succeeded John Fox and Newton became the starter, the Panthers are 2-12 in games decided by a touchdown or less.

Newton, who won a national championship with Auburn, has struggled with losing. His sideline pose – sitting alone on the bench with a towel draped over his head – prompted Rivera to refer to him as “Mr. Mopeyhead” during Newton’s record-breaking rookie season.

But the coach said he has seen Newton turn his attitude around. Newton, responding to a reporter’s question this year, said he’d like to be a team captain in the future.

Rivera said Newton is “on the path” to getting a ‘C’ on his jersey.

“The thing that he and I have talked about is that no matter how bad things are, you have to lead by example,” Rivera said. “I told him basically at one point, when all (heck’s) breaking loose on the ship, everybody’s looking up at the captain.

“That’s the mentality you have to maintain. … He’s done a lot of good things and I’m very pleased with what he’s done.”

Rivera also likes the leadership traits demonstrated by Kuechly, who – like Newton – was an Associated Press Rookie of the Year. Kuechly won the defensive honor last year after becoming the first rookie to lead his team in tackles since San Francisco’s Patrick Willis during 2007.

“They both play the position where everybody looks to them. And I’ve been impressed by what I’ve seen from both those guys,” Rivera said. “So I’m excited about what those two young guys can be because, quite honestly, they are going to be the future of this football team. And that’s who we’re building this football team around.”

In addition to Jordan Gross and Steve Smith – the team’s longest-tenured players – Rivera said other veterans have found their voices inside the locker room: linebackers Thomas Davis and Jordan Senn, defensive end Charles Johnson, defensive tackle Dwan Edwards and tight ends Greg Olsen and Ben Hartsock.

Johnson and Edwards were part of a front four that helped Carolina finish as the league’s 10th-ranked defense last year. Johnson and end Greg Hardy combined for 23.5 sacks, and Edwards chipped in with six.

“We had two double-digit sack guys. We had a tackle that gave you six sacks, which is pretty phenomenal for a defensive tackle. Couple that with the play of our linebackers, and your front seven’s very solid,” Rivera said. “Where we’ve kind of wavered and had some things we’re trying to find out has been the secondary.”

Charles Godfrey, moved from strong safety to free safety near the end of last season, is the only secondary member assured of a starting spot. Free-agent acquisitions Drayton Florence and D.J. Moore will compete with Captain Munnerlyn, Josh Thomas and Josh Norman at cornerback, but there’s a big scrum vying for the strong safety job.

“People are going to say, ‘Well, you’re doing it by patchwork’ ” in the secondary, Rivera said. “But we’re doing it by guys that have had success, too.”

Before finishing that thought, Rivera began talking about the defensive line, which he hopes was fortified by the additions of Lotulelei, Short and Colin Cole, who was out of football for two years.

“The one position that was the strength last year was the defensive line. And I thought the decisions that were made during the draft … those two young tackles can be solid for us,” Rivera said. “Quite honestly, I think Colin Cole has some good football left in him, as well.”

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