There isn’t much reason for the Carolina Panthers to pat themselves on the backs this year, but coach Ron Rivera said special teams have been a bright spot.
Against Atlanta, rookie defensive lineman Vernon Butler blocked a kick (his second of the year) and running back Fozzy Whittaker averaged 42 yards per kickoff return, including a 47-yard long. The unit has shown improvement especially in the latter portion of the season.
“They’re starting to come together,” said Rivera. “Those guys are playing hard and doing some good things.”
The unit was a bit of a question mark entering the season, as special teams coordinator (who had been with Carolina since 2013) Bruce DeHaven, battling cancer, turned over his position to assistant Thomas McGaughey.
“You’re starting to see (Thomas’) personality come out through his players,” said Rivera. “Thomas played in the league, played in the NFL in Europe. … There’s a fiery personality to him.”
Chase Blackburn, a former linebacker, assists McGaughey, and Rivera said Blackburn prepares for games as if he’s playing in them, which is motivating for the players.
Rivera also texted DeHaven recently to check in on him.
“He’s just doing the best he can and resting,” he said.