Q&A with Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera (part two)

Cody Dalton
Sports Editor

The Hickory Sportsman’s Club welcomed Carolina Panthers head football coach Ron Rivera for its bi-annual meeting at Rock Barn Golf & Spa in Conover on Monday.

Rivera, who was hired as the Panthers head coach in 2011 and led the team to Super Bowl 50, is the 70th speaker in the history of the long-time club.

Below is the second part of O-N-E Sports Editor Cody Dalton’s exclusive one-on-one interview with Rivera:

CD: Talk a little bit about the group you got after the NFL Draft. How excited are you about those guys?

RR: Obviously, Christian (McCaffrey) speaks for himself, as does Curtis (Samuels). Curtis is a wide receiver/running back-type player, where Christian is a running back/wide receiver-type player. They both have those kinds of versatilities and abilities for things that we do. They fit very nicely, but then you look at Taylor Moton from Western Michigan. He is a very large individual. He’s one of the biggest guys I’ve been around. He’s very smart and very bright. He graduated ahead of time and ahead of schedule. He’s very strong and a very powerful guy. He showed some flexibility in our workouts last week when Matt Kalil had to go to an event. We moved Taylor and let him play the left side, and he looked very natural over there. We’re excited about having him. We think that’s a really good pick for us. Daeshon Hall — a young man we got from Texas A&M — was on the other side of (No. 1 overall pick) Myles Garrett. (Hall) plays very well and is very strong. He is explosive at the point of attack. He’s a young man we think will integrate very nicely. We thought we did some really good things and filled some needs. We drafted a fullback [West Georgia’s Alex Armah]. We drafted a kicker from Georgia Tech [Harrison Butker]. I think (Butker) has a chance to be a solid player. We drafted Corn Elder, a corner/nickel who is built in the same mold as a Captain Munnerlyn. We feel good about that group of kids that we were able to bring in.

CD: Going into training camp, what do you believe will be the most competitive position?

RR: I think wide receiver. It’s funny because everyone wanted to talk about Kelvin Benjamin being heavy. Well, he was, but not what people reported. I can tell you that much. That was way off base and unfair to Kelvin. Kelvin is great, and he’s done a great job. Kelvin is already down about 20 pounds in the four weeks. He’s done it very steady. That’s kind of how it is. He’s been doing his workouts. That’s why you have OTAs and mini-camp to get in shape to get ready going into camp. I’m not sure why people got all bent out of shape. I addressed it, and people said ‘oh, coach is mad.’ I just addressed the question.

CD: With two of your best players — quarterback Cam Newton and linebacker Luke Kuechly — coming off injuries, is there any concern from you about them heading into the season?

RR: No. Both guys have looked really good. Luke has been working out and been doing everything that he needs to do, which is really good to see. Cam’s rehab has gone great. He’s ahead of schedule, but we’re going to keep him on a schedule. We’re not going to have him throw until we get to June. I’m excited about getting both of those guys back on the football field healthy and ready to roll.

CD: You played with the Chicago Bears on defense. Would a Luke Kuechly fit in well with those guys?

RR: There are a lot of those guys on our team that would have fit in very well. It’s a completely different style of football, though. We were more of a ground-and-pound type team. We had two-a-days — in some cases three-a-days. That was just the way it was. Today’s football with all of these rules that we have, you can only practice them so much and only have one-a-days.

CD: What’s your impression of your undrafted rookie linebacker Ben Boulware, out of Clemson?

RR: You talk about a solid young man. He’s pretty exciting. I don’t know if you heard the story, but we had to follow the rules with rookie camp, and the rookies aren’t allowed to be in on that Thursday until 11 a.m. (Boulware) was in the parking lot at 9 a.m. and had to stay in the parking lot reviewing these notes he had written up. He’s one of my favorites.

CD: Do you ever think Steve Smith will come back and sign a one-day deal with the Panthers?

RR: I hope he does. He’s earned the right to. He certainly has. He’s a solid guy. I think that would be an outstanding way for him to retire.

CD: I heard you’re a pretty good golfer. How’s your golf game?

RR: Unfortunately, my wife has a better one.

CD: Where is your favorite place to play golf?

RR: There are so many great places. There really are. I love Monterey and the Pebble Beach area because I grew up out there. My parents still live in the Bay Area so we go out and visit. This year, I got to place in the Pro-Am at the Wells Fargo Championship at Eagle Point (Golf Club). It was very tough. That wind kicks up from so many different directions. It was a beautiful day that we played.

CD: Just being theoretical, but who would win a battle between your 1985 Chicago Bears defense and the Carolina Panthers 2015 offense?

RR: I don’t do that. People ask me things like that all the time, and I tell them I don’t compare eras. People want to talk about the greatest running back of all time. I tell people you can’t compare Jim Brown to Walter Payton. I won’t do it. Dick Butkus was great in his era, but his style wouldn’t translate to today’s game. A guy like Mike Singletary is phenomenal and Brian Urlacher came after him. I saw a great succession of great NFL linebackers when I played in Chicago. I won’t compare them.

CD: You don’t believe there is a greatest of all time?

RR: No, I don’t think there is. I think there is a greatest for each era. It’s like Michael Jordan. Michael is maybe one of the few rare exceptions, but if you talk about Michael Jordan then you have to talk about Wilt Chamberlain. Then you have to talk about Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Then you have to talk about Larry Bird. You’ve got to talk about Magic Johnson. You can’t leave anyone else out of the conversation because those guys played at different times for different teams and different eras.

CD: I noticed you talked about baseball earlier. Is that one of your favorite sports?

RR: I loved baseball growing up. My hero was Roberto Clemente back in the day. I used to go out and loved reading about it. I enjoy sports. I really do. My wife played college basketball, and she coached college basketball, high school basketball and in the WNBA. My daughter played college softball. She played in the World Cup and the Pan-Am Games for Team Puerto Rico. That’s something I enjoy. One of my favorite hobbies is to play golf. I enjoy playing golf. It’s a great getaway.

CD: How is Michael Oher doing health-wise?

RR: From what I understand, he’s doing well. He’s decided to stay in Tennessee. When he was here going through the program, he looked great. It’s now just a matter of being released (from the concussion protocol). When he comes in for mini-camp that’s when he should be released.

CD: Being a former Chicago Bear, how do you think former University of North Carolina quarterback and No. 2 overall pick Mitchell Trubisky will do there?

RR: That will be interesting. It’s kind of interesting because he only really started once in his entire college career, and this was it — that 12- or 13-game stretch, whatever it was. They are banking a lot on him. It’s going to be interesting to see how he does. From the things that I watched, he did some good things. He made some good decisions. You kind of wished he’d go back (to UNC) for one more year just so he can build on that. He reminds me a little bit of Mark Sanchez. Here is this guy [Sanchez] who had this one great year at USC [Southern Cal] and then he comes out (for the NFL Draft). Pete Carroll said that maybe (Sanchez) might want to take another year and come back, and (Sanchez) decided to go out. It’s not like (Sanchez) had a bad career because he went to AFC Championship games and lost in both, but he got there.