Carolina Panthers

Ron Rivera: No changes to Carolina Panthers coaching staff expected

Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera said Tuesday there will be no changes among his assistants and coordinators this offseason.

During his end-of-season news conference, Rivera repeated how well the Panthers played during the final six games. Specifically, he said he felt the special teams unit got better as the year went along.

“I think my satisfaction level is going to be based on those last six games,” Rivera said after confirming he wouldn’t make a change with special teams coordinator Richard Rodgers. “I’m looking at those last six games. I’m looking at the beginning to where we are. I’m looking at why we were where we were the first 12 games.”

Rodgers’ unit was at or near the bottom of six league categories and gave up numerous big plays in 2014. The group also experienced injuries early, including the losses of Chase Blackburn, Richie Brockel and Mike Tolbert, and couldn’t recover.

Though the unit did no worse than the Week 13 debacle in Minnesota that involved two blocked punts returned for touchdowns, it could be argued the special teams unit didn’t win the team any games after that, either.

The Panthers averaged 5.3 yards per punt return and allowed 14.4 yards per return. They averaged 19.3 yards per kickoff return compared with their opponent’s 31.5 yards per return.

Graham Gano missed three field-goal attempts and the field-goal unit also allowed Seattle’s Kam Chancellor to leap over the line on consecutive attempts in Saturday night’s playoff loss.

During an interview with Sports Illustrated, Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman said Chancellor spotted long snapper J.J. Jansen’s tell and was able to time his rush and leap over the line accordingly.

Though there won’t be staff changes, there will be philosophical changes to the special teams unit. Rivera and general manager Dave Gettleman talked about finding special teams aces who are devoted almost solely to the unit rather than splitting time on the offense or defense.

“The coaches have to understand, hey, these are our aces,” Rivera said. “Their primary function is to be on special teams and be ready to play.”

Extra points: The Panthers signed nine players to futures contracts, all of whom were on the team or practice squad. Carolina is expected to sign receiver Stephen Hill to a futures contract by Wednesday. … Rivera said he expects the Panthers to run more no-huddle offense in 2015. After battling injuries through the first half of 2014, they used no-huddle effectively to close out the year. … Carolina will work out former Canadian Football League receiver Duron Carter on Wednesday. Carter, the son of Hall of Fame receiver Cris Carter, has worked out for several NFL teams recently.

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