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INDIANAPOLIS — New Panthers head coach Ron Rivera, brandishing his Super Bowl XX ring, is starting his search for the man who will earn him his next ring.
The Panthers are coming off a 2-14 season in which the quarterback play was among the worst in the NFL. Their prize: The top pick in the NFL draft. Rivera fielded several questions about the pick, including whether Cam Newton might be that guy.
"We're exploring all positions, and quarterback is one of them," Rivera said. "We do believe you have to have that franchise guy."
Rivera said that he and the team continue to determine whether Jimmy Clausen, the Panthers' top pick last season, is that guy. The coach has watched some tape of Clausen and Matt Moore and did say that the Panthers "will bring in quarterbacks."
That's plural, mind you. Moore is a free agent. Clausen figures to return, one way or another, starter or not, unless the Panthers are shockingly blown away by a trade offer for him. Tony Pike, a sixth-rounder in ’10, might not be in the mix. Any quarterback who returns will have serious competition at the position.
"You look around the league, and teams that have (quarterbacks who) can attack you vertically are the ones that are very tough," Rivera said Thursday morning. "We've got to find a situation like that … whether that guy is on our roster and we can develop him, or whether we have to find him in the draft."
As for Newton, Rivera fielded several questions about the talented but controversial Auburn product but said little revealing.
"He's got a lot going for him," Rivera said. "He's a tall, powerful young man. He's got great athletic ability.
"He's got a great arm, and he's a winner. That part of it can't be overlooked."
The Panthers will bring in a group of 7-10 players who are under consideration for the top pick. Rivera expects Newton to be among them.
Rivera also talked about WR Steve Smith and where he stands. Smith was frustrated last season with the team's fall and the lack of offensive execution, which killed his receiving numbers. He and Rivera have talked, and the coach said Smith was "very honest" about his frustration.
"I appreciate that," Rivera told PFW once the media contingent broke up. "He let me know how he felt. We're going to continue to see what happens, and we hope he wants to be (in Charlotte). He's still a heck of a player. We're just held up now because of the CBA (situation)."