Thursday, 06 October 2011 15:20

Carolina Panthers Coach Ron Rivera Talks Cam Newton, New Orleans Saints

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On Wednesday, Carolina Panthers Head Coach Ron Rivera held a conference call with New Orleans reporters.  The Panthers face the New Orleans Saints on Sunday.  

The focus was, of course, Cam Newton, Darren Sproles, Jimmy Graham and Saints' defensive coordinator Gregg Williams: 
(Image:  Former Panther and now Saint kicker John Kasay)

How have you dealt with Cam Newton?  I’m assuming you don’t want to curb his enthusiasm and passion for the game.

“I think the big thing about him is his own personal confidence, his poise, and his composure.  You really don’t want to curb him.  You want him to grow, learn and understand and let him become the player that he’s capable of becoming.  He knows how to handle it.  He’s been on the big stage for a long time.  He’s doing pretty good.  I think the big thing we need to make sure we do with him as well as with the team is in the situation we’re in, we just have to manage our expectations.  We’re a young team, we’re growing, we’re learning how to play, we haven’t learned how to finish, and we still make mistakes that hurt ourselves.  We have a ways to grow and get better and I know he understands that as well.”

Are you surprised at how quickly Cam Newton has been able to play and put up the numbers he has so far?

“Yes.  To be perfectly frank about it, I think he’s exceeded everyone’s expectations.  We expect him to show and do well, but from day one up to now he’s done nothing but improve.  It goes back to why we did the things that we did during training camp.  We didn’t have a veteran quarterback come in and be a part of the two-a-day process until later.  Jimmy Clausen was our most veteran quarterbacks at two years and then we had Cam as a rookie and then Tony Pike who was on practice squad last year.  He’s a second year guy as well.  We did everything with the idea that we’d develop these young guys and give them the opportunity during training camp.  I think that’s really where we’ve gotten to is that we’re developing, we’re growing, we’re trying to give these guys as many opportunities to learn and grow as a football team.  I think we’ve taken that attitude and I think it’s helped Cam develop.  He gets a lot of reps, he gets a lot of snaps, he gets a lot of meeting time and because of that I think it’s helped him in his development.  But also don’t forget we’re fortunate because we have a veteran offensive line, we have playmakers: our running backs, our tight ends, our receivers.  It’s really to me what’s we’ve done as a group being able to come together.”

When you have a guy like Cam Newton with all of his skills, how much do you tailor your offense to him?

“I think the biggest thing was right off the bat we found that we tailor to what he does best, but at the same time it doesn’t really curtail to what Rob Chudzinski thought he could do or Mike Shula for that matter.  Those guys work tremendously well together in terms of what the young man does and does best and what he needs to improve on.  A lot of the things we do really are about what our concepts and what our philosophies on offense as much as what he’s capable of doing.  We game plan according to the opponent we’re playing of course with that in mind as to what he does best and what he’s comfortable with.”

What kind of challenge do you have this week?

“If you look at them defensively, it’s an attacking defense.  It’s a very well-coached group first of all.  I have a lot of respect for what Gregg Williams does over there.  He’s one of the finer defensive coordinators in this league.  He’s been doing it a long time and has a lot of success.  I think he has a good personnel.  We expect them to attack like a lot of other teams have and bring in pressure and change up the coverages.  We hopefully will be able to get a handle on them and prepare this week for what they do defensively.  As far as their offense is concerned, they have a lot of weapons and it all starts with Drew Brees and Coach Payton.  I think the two of them are a great combination and a great tandem in terms of the way they work so well together and then you couple that with the playmakers they have back there and it does mean that you’re going to have to prepare for a lot of different looks that you’re going to get from them.  This is most certainly one of the better teams in the league and we know that.  They’re fighting for the lead in our division and they are a good team.”

Is Jimmy Graham a guy that you have to put at the top of your list in preparing for?

“Absolutely, just because of the different things that they do with the tight end and just the fact that he’s a quality football player as well.  He’s a guy that is going to give you headaches if he can stretch your team vertically.  He has enough athletic ability and route running ability and good hands to cause you problems underneath.  And if you’re not careful and you try to match him up with the wrong guy, he could take advantage of that.  Just the different ways Coach Payton uses him, once again I think you have to look at the playmakers they have. We’re caught up in the same boat to a degree, but we’re young at a couple positions and we have enough playmakers at tight end that you have to account for both of them.  We have a good taste of it and I think Jimmy Graham is one of the up-and-comers.”

Do you recall the Saints picking him in the third round raising eyebrows around the league?

“I was in San Diego and I saw what Antonio Gates was capable of.  The Houston Texans took the kid from Cincinnati that played basketball so I think to a degree there was a carry over as far as with the athleticism that you need to play certain positions.  Certainly we’ve seen that at tight end as a position you can have success with if you played basketball.  I guess also with a pass rushing defensive end like we’ve seen with the young man with the Houston Texans.”

Does Jabari Greer get enough credit for what he does?

“I don’t think so.  They have good enough players at different positions that some guys are going to get overshadowed.  You talk about what they do with their defensive line and their linebackers and their safety play, it’s easy to overlook people especially when you have guys that make big plays.  Like we say as defensive coaches, the only time you hear about a corner is when he gets beat and you really haven’t heard a whole lot about that with their defense.  Sure it was a tough loss against Green Bay, but everyone that’s played Green Bay has had a tough loss.  I just think that guys will get their do when people take a step back and look at what they’ve done over a period of time.  Guys like him who just silently do their job, people are going to take notice and say that he’s a heck of a player and we have to make sure people know that.  We’re in the same boat.  We have a young cornerback that’s been doing a good job for us in Captain Munnerlyn.  A lot of people say he’s undersized but for what he’s done for us, he’s been solid.”

Getting back to Cam Newton, he told us he’s never lost two games in a row at anything.  Have you had to talk to him at all about that?

“It has been difficult for him and he’s a tremendous competitor.  The thing that’s going to happen and we’ve talked about it is we have to grow up.  We’re going to learn and we’re going to take our lumps.  We’re like that little brother in the neighborhood that everyone picks on and beats up but eventually that little brother gets bigger.  Then when you get bigger you start beating everyone else up.  We’re going to grow and develop and we’re going to take our lumps, but eventually we’re going to learn how to fight back and when that happens I really think we can take off and have some real good things happen for us.”

Does Darren Sproles look like the same guy you faced in practice in San Diego or does he look better?

“He’s tremendous and I’m a big fan of his.  Hopefully we’ll have a plan that we can operate and be able to eliminate him or take him out of their offense.  He’s a tremendous player.  You watch what they do, they use them the way you’re supposed to.  He can play the dot for you in a two-back set and he can play the offset back for you in shotgun.  He can play the wing, you can put him in motion, and you can bring him back in.  The young man poses a lot of headaches for coaches and coordinators that are defense-minded.  We knew that back in San Diego and I know that even more as a head coach watching the tape.  He’s a tremendous young man too.  New Orleans has a real special player and person in Darren Sproles.”

Even when Darren Sproles was in San Diego, it seemed to take a while to get him involved in the offense.  Is it hard to grasp that a guy that small can play with that kind of power and consistency?

“The big thing about Darren and having sat in the meetings we talked about the players was we had so many weapons there though.  There’s only one football on the field at a time and sometimes it’s hard to spread it.  I think right now what Coach Payton is doing is he’s taking a guy and featuring him and it’s really helping the other positions.  It’s helping the tight end position, it’s helping the wide receiver position as well, and it’s helping the quarterback.  Drew Brees has a little bit of a familiarity with Darren from being with him in San Diego even though they were only there together for a year.  I think Drew having been in San Diego probably helped with Darren.  He knows him and when you have that familiarity and that comfort level with a guy, it’s easy to be able to turn to him and dump the ball.  It’s easy to make that contact without really saying it, just knowing that – hey, I’m going to run this route and stick it and come underneath it.  It’s something that when you put the tape on and you see it already and you go, ‘Wow, they’ve really only worked together a few months.’  It’s impressive.”

It seems like the Saints defense has found some strengths after having a tough time against the Packers in the opening game.  What have you noticed in terms of the strengths of Gregg Williams’ defense?

“The biggest thing is they didn’t have to play against Aaron Rodgers.  I think the biggest thing really is it’s all about working together.  Right now, they’re starting to gel and come together.  I think that’s a big part of it.  It’s a good group.  It’s a good unit.  I’ve always studied Coach (Williams) and I’ve always felt comfortable with what he does and see how he’s attacked people.  Right now, the players are just in sync.  They’ve hit their stride.  They’re doing a great job.  He’s a tremendous mind.  He’s somebody that I’ve always tried to watch and learn from.  Coach Williams is doing a heck of a job.”

What’s your take on the proliferation of the passing around the league?

“I’m surprised at the ways it’s taken off around the league the way it has.  If you think about it, we’re one of the teams that have had to do that.  When I took the job and sat down with Marty Hurney, our General Manager, one of the things we talked about was that this has become a passing league and more so a franchise quarterback league.  If you don’t have a franchise quarterback you’re going to struggle, which led to us going out and investigating and eventually drafting Cam Newton.  We look at our division, there are three franchise quarterbacks.  We have more quality quarterbacks in our division right now than anybody else does.  It’s amazing when you think about it that the four teams in this division with the quarterbacks are going to be around together and compete against each other.  This could quickly turn into one of the better divisions in the league.  But it’s just a matter of time.  Our guy is developing and the young man in Tampa Bay has continued to develop as well as in Atlanta.  Drew is really the only established guy right now, but the other guys are young, they’re still growing, and they’re still trying to find their way in this league.  It’s interesting and at the same time it’s kind of scary because we have to compete against three of them so it has become that type of league.  The other thing too, with as much passing that’s going on in college football, and I think with as much time as these guys are spending with these ‘quarterback gurus’ before the draft, you’re going to see a lot more of these young guys I think that are going to get drafted in the league working to develop and by the time they get to the league if you draft a guy in the first round everybody is going to expect to play him.”

by Ed Staton

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Ed Staton

Ed Staton is a former sports writer for the Times Picayune and New Orleans States Item.  He also served as the New Orleans Saints Information Director.  He has won 43 media awards in writing, design and photography. | This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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