Scott Fowler

Ron Rivera unplugged: 6 more incredibly honest things he said in exclusive interview

In the course of a lengthy and exclusive interview with Panthers coach Ron Rivera Monday, I learned a number of things. Here are six of them:

CAM’S WEIGHT: Rivera said that in February he went down to Atlanta and saw Newton while he was there. The trip was not solely to see the quarterback – Rivera was also there because he was considering the purchase of a painting by American artist Steve Penley, who works in Atlanta.

While in the area, Rivera called Newton and the two ended up going to dinner. “And he bought,” Rivera said, chuckling. “So that was big.”

What was not big, though, was Newton’s body. At the time, Rivera said, he was startled by how seriously Newton was already working out for a 2017 season that was more than half a year away.

“He was 248 pounds when I saw him,” Rivera said. “He played last year at 260-265.”

Rivera said that even at 265 pounds, though, Newton was “at about eight percent body fat” in 2016.

“Think about that,” the coach said. “His problem is when he goes in and lifts weights, you ought to see him. He swells up. I have to kill myself in the weight room to get anything. He walks in there, just inhales, and gets big.”

By modifying his workouts, Newton showed up at training camp at 246 pounds. Although Newton has done no more than light throwing on the sideline for the past nine days and won’t play Wednesday night vs. Houston, Rivera also said he remained optimistic about Newton and his surgically repaired shoulder being ready for the regular-season opener at San Francisco on Sept. 10.

WHY CASH HIT McCAFFREY: To use his own term, Rivera was “a little irate” at Panthers linebacker Jeremy Cash on Sunday when Cash hit running back Christian McCaffrey low in a drill. But Rivera was more understanding after hearing Cash’s explanation.

The explanation in a nutshell? McCaffrey juked Cash out so badly that it turned the linebacker into a pretzel, whereupon Cash said he tripped over his own legs and fell forward into McCaffrey.

Said Rivera: “I have never had a player tell me: ‘Hey, Coach, he shook me so bad that I fell into him.’ He told me that and I almost laughed. But I appreciated the brutal honesty. ... Normally, players don’t want you to know they got shook.”

McCAFFREY ON WEDNESDAY: Rivera said he expected McCaffrey to play “about a quarter and a half” on Wednesday in the first exhibition against Houston. He also said McCaffrey will clearly be the team’s No. 1 punt returner this year. However, Rivera said, he may not send McCaffrey back for punts in the first exhibition to protect him from possible injury.

GANO HAS KICKING EDGE: Of the Panthers’ training-camp battles at kicker and punter, Rivera said: “I am very, very, very pleased with Graham Gano. I really am. Andy Lee has been outstanding and Mike Palardy has been outstanding (at punter). That’s honestly where probably the bigger battle is.”

Rivera left little doubt Gano would be the team’s placekicker. He also said that while seventh-round pick Harrison Butker has been inconsistent, he has a big leg and that the Panthers may strongly consider putting him on the practice squad.

A NEWS JUNKIE: Rivera said he often has talk radio on in his office when he works, usually tuned to a news station like Charlotte’s WBT. He also has developed a friendship with well-known Republican pollster and media consultant Frank Luntz.

“He’s worked with me on my press conferences and stuff like that,” Rivera said of Luntz. “And when something comes up (on a national political scale) I will ask him, ‘What do you think about that?’ And he gives me a pretty good opinion.”

STRONG TRAINING CAMPS: When asked which young players have had strong training camps, Rivera mentioned wide receiver Brenton Bersin very early.

“Bersin is quietly having a very good camp right now,” Rivera said.

Rivera also mentioned these players on what he stressed was only a partial list: Wide receivers Damiere Byrd and Russell Shepard; tight end Ed Dickson; offensive linemen Amini Silatolu, Tyler Larsen and Taylor Moton; and safety Cole Luke. He also mentioned safety Dean Marlowe, but after a recent hamstring injury he was waived by the team on Tuesday.

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