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Rivera, Panthers focus on fixing offense

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Dan Parr

dparr@pfwmedia.com
Associate editor

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Posted Jan. 11, 2011 @ 8:13 p.m. ET
By Dan Parr

The Panthers introduced former Chargers defensive coordinator Ron Rivera as their new head coach on Tuesday.

"I really like the situation and set of circumstances I'm coming to," Rivera said at his press conference.

While he spearheaded a 3-4 base defense in San Diego, the defensive-minded Rivera said the Panthers would continue playing a 4-3 defense.

"Defensively, we want to be an attacking, aggressive-style defense. ... We are a 4-3 defense — that's what this team is; that's what the personnel are set up for. We could be a solid unit."

Rivera was less specific about his plans for the team's offensive scheme, saying he has not had an opportunity to speak with some potential coordinators yet. He did say that he wants someone who will bring a balanced offense to Carolina.

ESPN's Chris Mortensen reported that Rivera's contract is for four years and is worth $11.2 million. He replaces John Fox, whose contract was not extended after it expired at season's end.

Rivera is the fourth head coach in Panthers history, following Dom Capers, George Seifert and Fox. All four had defensive backgrounds.

The PFW spin

Rivera didn't offer any surprises at his introductory press conference. He'll probably blitz more than Fox did, but Rivera said the Panthers will stick with a 4-3 base defense, and he wants to be balanced, innovative and aggressive on offense.

That probably sounds great to Panthers fans, who tired of watching Fox run an offense that was lambasted for being unimaginative, but Rivera's plan for that side of the ball will become much clearer when he hires an offensive coordinator. The names being connected to that vacancy include Marc Trestman, Rob Chudzinski and Ron Turner. Each of them has years of experience as a coordinator in the NFL, and Rivera is going to rely heavily on whomever he chooses to help him decide on a scheme.

Choosing an offensive coordinator will be the most important decision Rivera makes until he decides, after consulting with the coordinator, what to do about the situation under center. He made it clear Tuesday that his intent is to figure out whether or not Jimmy Clausen is a franchise quarterback.

He didn't rule out Clausen returning as the starter, but it's obvious that Rivera is not yet convinced Clausen is the answer, and that outlook is going to sit well with some fans, too. Clausen, a second-round pick in 2010, suffered through a poor rookie season, throwing three touchdowns and nine interceptions while leading the Panthers to a 1-9 record in his 10 starts.

The Panthers were expected to spend the first overall pick in the draft on Stanford QB Andrew Luck until he announced last week that he would return for another season at college. The team's plans for the top pick are murkier now.

Carolina has a solid foundation on the offensive line and at running back. Steve Smith leads a young receiving corps with the potential to improve significantly next season, as Rivera pointed out Tuesday. Yet the Panthers are going to have a hard time getting closer to the top of their division, which is dominated by three teams with quality quarterbacks, if Rivera and the Panthers don't improve their situation at quarterback.

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