Reports out of San Diego say that defensive coordinator Ron Rivera will be the next head coach of the Carolina Panthers. He’s not John Gruden; he’s not Bill Cowher; he’s better.
Ron Rivera finished up 2010 with the best overall defense in the NFL. The San Diego Chargers ranked first in total yards allowed, passing yards allowed per game and finished second in yards per play, third-down percent and sacks. The Chargers also finished fourth in rushing yards allowed per game.
Now, these numbers were not the result of Rivera’s first season with the Chargers. It took the Chargers a few seasons to figure things out. In 2008, the Chargers defense ranked 25th in total yards allowed and 22nd in sacks. As the Chargers became acquainted with the system, they gradually got better. Last season, the Chargers moved to 16th in total yards allowed and 13th in sacks.
The Chargers were a wreck, and Rivera righted the ship. The reason why Panthers fans should be foaming at the mouth is that Carolina is in better shape than the Chargers were when Rivera started there. The last time Rivera ran a 4-3 defense was in Chicago, the year the Bears went to the Super Bowl.
Rex Grossman had multiple games with sub 60.0 passer rating, so the defense was probably pretty good. The Bears defense was fifth in Total Yards Allowed, eighth is sacks, second in third down percent and that defense allowed only 15.9 points per game.
Rivera’s history is great and all, but what can he do for the young Panthers team that just came off a 2-14 season?
The first thing Rivera will do is bring in his staff. This includes possibly Perry Fewell or even Rob Ryan to help with the defense. As for the offense, there are many reports saying the tight end coach and/or the quarterback coach will come over from San Diego to be offensive coordinator. This is the same tight end coach who helped create Antonio Gates, and the same quarterback coach that helped develop Phillip Rivers. Both are top-five players at their respected positions.
Another thought to keep in mind is that Ron Rivera is not a loud-mouth and is held in high regard with many coaches around the NFL. People may question why he was not hired before by the eight teams to interview him. The answer is Rivera is a good coach, but he satisfies the Rooney Rule and has been used to meet a requirement so teams could then hire their own candidate. There is a chance that someone like Mike Mularkey or Marty Mornhinweg may decide to come to Rivera’s staff, if they had not been selected for a head coach position.
The next step for Rivera will be the personnel. Rivera will thoroughly evaluate every player. This is actually a good time for Rivera, as most of the team will be joining the free agent pool. There is no better way for him to retain the roster he desires. I imagine he will re-sign Thomas Davis and James Anderson to recreate the mighty linebacker group he had in Chicago. Also, don’t be surprised if Jamar Williams is re-signed, as he was a Bear and was there with Rivera in 2006. I imagine he will also look to retain Richard Marshall to keep the secondary intact.
Rivera will look to recreate what he had in Chicago. He’ll want a strong linebacker group, which he’ll have. He’ll want a secondary that can cover. This is why he’ll keep Marshall or even look into getting Nnamdi Asomugha, as the Panthers will have the money. I expect Charles Godfrey to be retained and used closer to the line of scrimmage. Rivera may look for a safety in the draft or free agency and possibly move Sherrod Martin to corner.
Lastly, I do not expect most if any of the defensive tackles to be back. Rivera wants a dominant line that can stop the run and get pressure with just the front four. This may have a big impact on who Carolina targets in the draft. The offense will probably be according to the offensive coordinator’s specifications, as chances are the coordinator will be from San Diego and have Rivera’s trust.
Finally, the draft is a huge question mark. Will Carolina trade or keep the pick? Will a new CBA be done in time for a rookie cap to be put in place starting with the 2011 draft? Who will Carolina target in free agency, and what needs will be left unfulfilled? Personally, I’m a huge fan of A.J. Green. Rivera knows what Calvin Johnson and Vincent Jackson can do. He also realizes the importance of a pass rush, so he may target Da’Quan Bowers. The most realistic possibility is he will trade back and draft someone like Marcell Dareus or one of the quarterbacks if they have a great combine.
Rivera has built great defenses in both a 3-4 and a 4-3 system. With such a young team, Rivera has the opportunity to quickly mold his franchise and finally develop the winning program Carolina has lacked.
Buckle your seat belts, this is going to be a fun ride.