This is going to take a little getting used to, a Head Coach who actually answers a question with more than hyperbole. Panthers new HC Ron Rivera gave a candid interview to the Fayetteville Observor and others while at Ft. Bragg that was published yesterday. For me it was his answer to this question that I found to be surprisingly candid given what we are used to in Carolina:
Q: When this thing is over, obviously, free agency will be open. What are the big things you need to take care of right away?A: "Well, I think there are a couple of positions we most certainly need to make sure there are some good veteran depth there. We’re going to look at some of the defensive positions. We made a couple of moves here in the draft, but we’d still like to see if we can find a veteran defensive line guy who could help us. You look at our linebackers and we’ve got a couple of guys who are coming back after injuries, so we’ve got to see if there’s potentially if there’s a veteran guy we could bring in. The same thing with the defensive back position. Offensively, we feel pretty comfortable with our offensive line and our running back situation. We’ve got to resolve the wide receiver position and see how all that unfolds once this is done. Our quarterback position is what it is right now. We’ve got to talk about where we want to head as far as the veteran back up is concerned.’’
I was most surprised that he mentioned LB in his list of needs. With four good LBs returning in Jon Beason, James Anderson, Dan Conner and Thomas Davis returning it makes you wonder how they would fit in a veteran. I agree there has to be concern that both Davis and Conner are returning from knee injuries. Yet the Panthers appear to have some quality back-ups in place who could hold things down behind an upgraded d-line until these guys shape up. The Panthers return Nic Harris, the former Bear Jason Williams, Jordan Senn, Sean Ware and rookie draft pick Lawrence Williams.
Could this mean there is a good chance Thomas Davis doesn't return? If that were the case I could understand the thought that we need another vet to support the remaining three starters in Beason, Conner and Anderson. With these three to shose from we are back to that unanswered question we had all last season, what to do with Dan Conner? He's strictly a MLB in my view and Beason's ability to play in coverage seemed to minimized at the WLB early last season. Yet I thought the run defense was better with Conner in the middle.
The other positions mentioned by Rivera were not much of a surprise. It's a forgone conclusion CB Richard Marshall is a goner hence the need for a vet CB. Rookie Brandon Hogan might be a long-term solution but not many want to see him out there as a rookie. A lower probability would be to move either of the safeties Charles Godfrey or even Sherrod Martin to CB. Both have played the position before; Martin was actually projected to be a CB after being drafted but got moved during his rookie season.
Even after drafting two DTs the Panthers could certainly still use a vet up front until these guys get their feet wet. That tells me we will have several changes in the depth chart once camp opens (I'm remaining positive on that). We've got a number of young guys who had better impress this new coaching staff soon or they might not last long; guys like Corvey Irvin, Andre Neblett, Nick Hayden and Ed Johnson.
Rivera even acknowledged they have yet to decide on two positions: QB and WR. Obviously the Steve Smith situation remains up in the air. Rivera addressed this question directly:
Q: Are you planning the wide receiver position without Steve Smith?A: "We’re planning, when this all breaks, to sit down and visit and come to a decision. One thing I did tell Steve is we’ll make a decision we feel is best for the team, and at the same time keeping in serious consideration what’s best for him as well. I don’t want to put words in his mouth. It might be in his mind (to leave), it might not. I do know we had a great conversation. He was honest and and forthright. He did kind of leave me at a point where I was wondering exactly where did he want to go with this. But I’ll wait until we can sit down and talk when the time comes.’’