Like any NFL coach, you can question plenty about Ron Rivera. But one thing is unarguable: He’s loyal.
To a fault?
Despite pressure from the outside, and from some above him inside the building, Rivera was determined to keep his offensive staff intact even after the unit’s struggles in 2016. So the Panthers — and Rivera — will sink or swim with offensive coordinator Mike Shula and quarterbacks coach Ken Dorsey.
“I just felt that the continuity as who we are as a coaching staff was important,” Rivera said Thursday at the NFL combine in Indianapolis.
“If we decided to shake that staff up in 2014, who knows what would have happened in 2015?”
Part of Rivera’s staunch loyalty could stem back to early 2013 when owner Jerry Richardson gave his head coach another year after two under-. 500 seasons. Rivera repaid that faith with three straight NFC South titles.
That streak, of course, ended last season, and as the Panthers’ offense sputtered, the sense was Shula or Dorsey would be a fall guy. Instead, Rivera argued his guys would “evolve.”
“I think the thing that we have to do as a coaching staff is look at what we’ve done in the past and had success with,” Rivera said, “look at what we’ve done in the past and the failures we’ve had and get those things corrected and do those things better.”
As Rivera’s been saying since late 2016, tinkering with quarterback Cam Newton’s role is a major part of the planned evolution. That means Newton will run less. It doesn’t mean he won’t run at all.
“Without a doubt,” Rivera said when asked if Newton would fight the run-less philosophy.
“He wants the football, but we have to be very dogged in terms of what we’re going to do with him and how we’re going to do it. We have to pick and choose. It’s got to be the right situation and circumstances.”
Even if you can’t tell by his Instagram account, Newton has spent the past month-plus working to get himself “in the best shape of his life,” according to sources. Rivera said part of that work has included strengthening the throwing shoulder that bothered him throughout December.
“Everything I’ve heard is he’s been great,” Rivera said. “He’s had a good offseason, he’s been working with some strength and conditioning people back home and I’m really anxious to see him come April 17.”
So are Shula and Dorsey.