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Sorensen: Question-and-answer session with Carolina Panthers’ Ron Rivera

By Tom Sorensen
tsorensen@charlotteobserver.com
Tom Sorensen
Tom Sorensen has been a columnist at The Observer for 20 years and has been at the paper for 25, writing about nearly every sport in the Carolinas.

Poll

NFL poll: How many regular season games will the 2013 Carolina Panthers win?

SPARTANBURG One on one with Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera on an outdoor bench still wet from the Spartanburg rain.

Q: Who’s the MVP of training camp?

“Oh, wow, that’s a good question because there are some guys who have come along and really done some good things.”

Many of you won’t like Rivera’s answer but others will be thrilled: wide receiver Armanti Edwards.

“The great thing for Armanti is he started (playing well) this offseason and then into OTAs and minicamp and he brought it right into training camp. I know he’s the underdog and I know there’s a lot of people pulling for him – but he’s earning it. He’s doing the things we’ve asked him to do and he’s shown promise. Now, we get into games and people flying around and hitting you.”

Who’s his competition?

Q: Rivera says tight end-fullback Richie Brockel.

Richie does so many of the little things for us. He plays tight end, H (back), F (back), fullback. And he does some really good things. He’s an unsung hero. People just don’t notice him.”

Q: How about on defense?

“Mike Mitchell has kind of separated himself from the other strong safety candidates and has done a really nice job. You see a guy like that grow and get better. We saw it on tape; we thought this is what he could become. He’s got the tools. Now (like Edwards) will he do it on game-time?

“You look at the whole defensive line. That unit as a whole, there’s not a slouch in that bunch. All those guys have an opportunity. We know the obvious ones but even the younger guys, the newer guys – (defensive end Louis) Nzegwu, (defensive end Craig) Roh, (defensive tackle Casey) Walker. These are young guys battling for a spot. They’re long shots but they’re coming and showing progress. If I had to pick a (defensive) MVP I would pick the entire line.”

Q: What position worries you most?

“The obvious is right guard. We made a move with (the release of veteran) Geoff Hangartner. We see young guys that have the potential, some ability and (we decided to) shake the dice a little bit. Garry Williams, Edmund Kugbila, Hayworth Hicks, we bring in Chris Scott, all guys that show ability but Garry being the one that in the past showed us he could start and finished up last year as a starter. Then you add Jeff Byers to the mix. When you’ve got a senior veteran sometimes the reps get split too much so we had to make a decision based on what we think this group can become.”

Q: What have you seen from your draft picks?

“We really believe all five are going to contribute this year. (Defensive tackles) Star (Lotulelei) and KK (Kawann Short) are dynamic and should be together for awhile. You look at what A.J. Klein brings to the mix as far as versatility – he can play all three linebacker positions and should be a four-base special teams’ guy. You look at (running back) Kenjon Barner and his ability, especially coming out of the backfield as a route runner. He does have a lot to learn. The way we do things is a little startling for him coming from the program (Oregon) he was involved in. Edmund Kugbila we’re banking on to be part of what we’re trying to accomplish.”

Q: Every season more teams stay home for training camp. Do you want to come to Spartanburg?

“It’s a great community. There are things that go on (away from the public) people don’t know about that’s innate to who we are as football players and coaches. There’s a camaraderie you’re building and it’s easy to come to a place like Spartanburg, like Wofford, where the people are tremendous.”

Q: If Panthers owner Jerry Richardson tells you to make the call, do you come to Spartanburg or stay in Charlotte?

“See that’s a tough decision because you have everything you need at your fingertips in Charlotte. Here you’ve got to pack and inevitably you forget something. It’d be a tough decision.”

Q: This is your third season as head coach. You know what you have to do to stay. Do you tire of hearing it?

Rivera laughs.

“What’s funny is the obvious gets stated every time and I get it. I will always say that Mr. Richardson has been very supportive and he’s told me just do your job, just do the best you can, Ron. He’s been tremendous.

“Its inevitable people are going to talk about it. It’s kind of the new vogue, who’s on the hot seat. And I don’t think it’s fair because there’s only one person who truly knows and I think sometimes all the talk can kind of influence people. It’s hard for me to imagine that Lovie Smith is (fired by Chicago after) going 10-6 and not going to the playoffs when two teams from their division (Green Bay and 10-6 Minnesota) go to the playoffs. Again, they made the decision they thought was best for their football team. It’s just hard for me to imagine. It’s just unfortunate.

“Do I know I’m coaching for my job? Absolutely. Every time I step on this football field, every time I step in the office, I know we’ve got to do the best we can because this is a production based business. It is about winning.”

Sorensen: 704-358-5119

Complete Carolina Panthers coverage from The Charlotte Observer at CharlotteObserver.com/panthers
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