Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera spoke to the media Thursday at the NFL scouting combine.
Five takeaways from Rivera’s remarks:
1. The Panthers are hoping for a more flexible Cam Newton in 2017.
The 2015 MVP took a beating last season, and was held out of practices the last several weeks because of his injured throwing shoulder.
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Rivera said Newton didn’t require surgery on his shoulder – or anything else – although Rivera said he wants to see a more flexible Newton when he returns to Charlotte for offseason workouts in April.
“I’d like to see him more flexible more so than anything else, especially through the shoulders, because that seemed to be where he had a lot of his problems,” Rivera said. “Get that shoulder strength back up and get that shoulder flexibility back more so than anything else.”
Rivera said Newton has been working with strength and conditioning coaches in Atlanta this offseason.
2. There’s room for Charles Johnson ... and another pass rusher.
Rivera said he was excited to hear general manager Dave Gettleman tell the media at the combine that the Panthers would like to bring back Johnson again. Johnson, 30, had four sacks in 13 games last season and led the team with three forced fumbles.
Rivera called him the Panthers’ most consistent defensive lineman in 2016.
“So obviously I’d love to see us be able to get him back into the fold right away,” Rivera said.
But Rivera said there’s “plenty of room” for another established, starter-quality pass rusher. Is Julius Peppers’ agent listening?
3. Don’t sleep on Daryl Williams.
Amid all the talk of uncertainty with starting tackles Michael Oher (concussion) and Mike Remmers (free agent), Williams has been the forgotten man.
But the fourth-round pick started 10 games last season and remains very much in the mix at right tackle.
“His ability as a run blocker has been tremendous. He’s improved so much as a pass protector. I think he’s a young and upcoming player for us,” Rivera said. “ ... As we continue to grow and he continues to grow, I think we’ll get better as a football team with him on the field for us.”
With the Panthers expected to move on from Remmers, Williams could well be the starter at right tackle, with a free agent addition (think Matt Kalil) manning the left side.
4. Graham Gano will have (serious) competition.
The Panthers always bring an extra kicker to training camp to save the wear and tear on Graham Gano’s leg. But after Gano struggled last season from start (missing the potential game-winner at Denver) to finish (1-for-4 on FGs at Tampa in Week 17), don’t be surprised to see the Panthers sign a kicker to legitimately challenge Gano for the job.
“This is about competition and we’re going to keep the best guys at every position,” Rivera said.
5. The fullback position is not obsolete.
The release of Mike Tolbert last week does not mean the Panthers are doing away with the fullback spot in their evolving offense. They just are ready to try some younger ones.
There are two fullbacks still on the roster – Devon Johnson, an undrafted free agent from Marshall, and Darrel Young, who signed a futures contract in January.
Young was with Washington for six seasons, starting 37 games and posting 13 touchdowns. He was out of the league last season after being cut by the Bears in training camp.
“We’ve got a couple young guys that we’ll most certainly take a look at, see where they fit,” Rivera said. “Hopefully, there is a fullback that we feel is good enough to be on that (final roster).”