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06 October 2016

Transcript: Carolina Panthers Conference Calls with Tampa Bay Media (10/6/16)

HEAD COACH RON RIVERA
 
(On if there is a sense of urgency after starting the season 1-3)
“We’ve been in this situation before. At the end of the day, it’s about continuing to work hard, play hard, practice hard and prepare hard. The situation is what it is. You play, things don’t happen the way you need them to happen and you’re in that situation. I think thing the big thing – more so than anything else – is just keep fighting and just keep trying to do your job.”
 
(On the defense not being as dominant so far this year)
“Probably the biggest thing is that we’re playing a lot of young guys right now, out of necessity. As we develop and continue to grow, I think we’ll find our footing. I think the hard part for us is the transition we’ve gone through in the last year. We’ve got a number of new faces out there. We’ve just got to get accustomed to each other.”
 
(On Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston having success against the blitz)
“He’s playing well. Unfortunately, it doesn’t show because it’s a team game and as things unfold, some things happen, some things don’t. But he’s done a nice job. He’s doing a great job developing. I like who they are as a football team. I think they’ve got some terrific weapons. I think Jameis is growing and evolving and let’s not forget: it’s only his second season. I think people get a little anxious. I think people will learn to take a deep breath and relax – it looks like they’re trying to do the things that you need to do to be successful with a young quarterback and that’s get people around him to protect him and then get some playmakers. It’s a process and they’re going through it. Believe me, this team is more than capable of winning football games.”
 
(On Winston’s elusiveness)
“That’s it – you can’t arm tackle a guy like that. That’s the beauty of having a nice-sized quarterback is that when he steps [up] in the pocket, he steps up firmly and he can deliver a nice football. If he has to scramble, get himself out of trouble, he’s got that kind of athleticism. He’s a very well-rounded football player. He seems to be a very smart, intelligent young man. He did some nice things. He really is, he’s growing into it really nicely. I think Coach Koetter is doing a tremendous job with him. I really – again, as I said – like this young football team.”
 
(On how encouraging it is to see Carolina quarterback Cam Newton and wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin connecting)
“It is encouraging to see it, but at the end of the day, it’s still – like I said – a team game. You want to make sure we’re still spreading the ball around to all of the different targets out there and everybody is getting the opportunities to make plays for us. The hard part is that there’s only one football. You don’t want to sit there and zero in on just the one guy.”
 
(On Carolina tight end Greg Olsen)
“I think the thing about an every down tight end is it’s really hard to get reads and keys on a guy like that. Greg is not the most talented. What he is is the hardest working I’ve been around, he really is. He works hard, he focuses on his job, he’s a very smart, intelligent guy. If the ball is in his area, he’s going to catch it. He presents a really good target to the quarterback. He’s a tremendous leader on our football team.”
 
(On Winston and Newton taking hits and if it’s important to talk to your quarterback about avoiding hits)
“It most certainly is a conversational point, but I mean, the guy is going to play the way he is. That’s just who they are. Eventually they’ll learn and grow and figure out how to do things that help protect themselves even better. I do see some of our guy [Newton] in Jameis. Jameis, like you said, he wants to win. These guys compete to win. It’s funny because people talk about, ‘Oh, he should learn this’ – the only thing the guy knows is how to win and that’s what he wants to do. This is a very tough time. Our guy went through the same thing, exactly. He wins a national championship, wins a Heisman Trophy and then his first couple of years in the league were hard. They were very hard. They were great learning experiences. In his third season, things just kind of came together. When I look at Tampa, I see those things. I really do. I just think it’s one of those things – with a little bit of patience and a little bit of time, I think they’re headed in the right direction. I like who they’re coaching staff is. I think Dirk Koetter and Mike Smith are two really good coaches in this league and I think they’re going to do a really nice job there.”
 
(On if the defensive pass interference rules make it harder to play pass defense)
“It’s very subjective, it’s a big challenge. There’s a couple of penalties that are called in this league that are subjective. That’s the hard part about it. How do you gauge things? How do you know things? The hard part for the defender is, ‘One time I may be able to do this and the next time, with a different referee, I can’t do this.’ So it’s difficult. There’s no uniformity to calling it. The biggest thing is – I think if you call it early in a game, I think it changes things. I think it changes things for the better. As a defensive guy, you’d like to see some uniformity, but it’s a very difficult job these guys have, these referees have, in terms of calling games.”
 
(On if Carolina running back Jonathan Stewart is overlooked)
“Very much so. That’s the hard part about not having him right now. I think not having him – I think people begin to realize exactly what he means to us. He’s a solid football player who brings a power-style running game to us. He’s a very physical guy. And then a lot of respect kind of rubs off to the rest of the team. I think whenever you miss a guy like that, it shows. We had a nice little stretch going of 100-yard games and we didn’t get 100 yards last week rushing, for the first time in about two-and-a-half years, so it was kind of disappointing.”
 
(On the importance of young quarterbacks taking on a leadership role and being authentic)
“Because I think if he’s really who he is and his teammates see that, when he does something wrong, they can say, ‘Well that’s just him trying to be him. Not trying to be anybody else.’ I think they’ll appreciate that a little bit more. That’s why I’ve always felt that you need to keep your personality. You need to have fun. Try not to be more, try not to be less than who you really are. I think guys will appreciate that if they know you’re being true to yourself. When guys do that, guys pick up on it and they appreciate that.”
 
(On creating a winning culture in Carolina)
“It’s first of all, making sure everybody has the same vision that you have as the head coach. Again, I don’t want to tell Dirk Koetter how to do anything, but for me, this is how I think it was for us. Just making sure everybody understood that I have a vision and this is our vision as we’re going forward. We needed people to fall in line. I think some of the things that helped us was finding those guys that wanted to be here and those that didn’t, we got rid of. I’m very fortunate because I had a couple of general managers that felt the same way. We were able to do some things to help us as we went forward.”
 
(On the team being frustrated by unfair fan perceptions of young quarterbacks)
“That’s really easy to do. I think the thing that everybody has to understand is that this is a growing process. You’re going to have growing. You just don’t all of a sudden show up and start winning everything. You have to go through this. There’s going to be the ups and there’s’ going to be the downs. As long as the young man stays true to who he is, the team continues to work and show growth – again, I like who this team can become because I know Mike Smith, I know Dirk Koetter. They’re tremendous coaches and they’ve got some good, young, talented football players that make their core. You look at us, I think we can – what we went through my first two seasons and going into my third, a lot people felt after four games I should be fired. The truth of the matter is that our owner stayed steady, stayed true to the vision that we talked about and lo and behold, look at where we are today. Now, obviously we’re 1-3 again and we’d like to be 3-1 instead, but that’s all part of it too, because again, if you look at our roster, I think there’s 16 or 17 new faces on our roster. Predominately on the defensive side, there’s three guys that are new that are starting. We’ll lose some of the things that we’ve had to go through and grow through as a football team.”
 
LINEBACKER LUKE KUECHLY
 
(On the urgency of Monday night’s game, with both teams being 1-3)
“I think it’s a big point in your season, I think 2-3 is way better than 1-4. The option that we’re both inside the NFC South and it’s a division game for both of us, I think means a little more. We both understand the situation we’re in and we’re both going to try and put our best foot forward, so we’ve been practicing tough this week and we understand that 2-3 is the option right now and 1-4 is not where we want to be.”
 
(On how unusual it was to give up so many yards and points to Atlanta last week)
“It’s not how you draw it up, but they have some good players on their team that made some plays last week. On our side of the ball, we’ve got to do a better job of just playing our responsibility and doing what we’re supposed to do and we’re working to get that stuff fixed and I think if we can just do what we’re coached to do, it’ll put ourselves in a better position to be successful.”
 
(On Tampa Bay quarterback Jameis Winton’s elusiveness and how well he’s been against the blitz this season)
“I think he moves well, I think the biggest thing for him is I think he’s very strong. I think he’s strong, I don’t think he’s afraid to get hit and I think there’s a lot to be said for that. A guy that can move around in the pocket, that doesn’t mind guys hanging on him and hitting him and you see it time and time again, him in the pocket, guys have their hands, arms all over him and he’s able to get out. So he’s a guy that you can’t quit on routes down the field because you never know when he’s going to scoot out and throw it down.”
 
(On Tampa Bay linebackers Lavonte David and Kwon Alexander)
“They’re active. They’re active, they’re fast, they run well and they get to the football and that’s something I think is fun to see. I think Kwon’s very fortunate to have a guy like Lavonte who he can learn from and they’re fun to watch. It’s cool to see within your own division two guys that can run around and make the plays they do. Our offense will have their hands full with those two guys.”
 
(On the NFC South quarterbacks)
“I think they’re all good. Obviously [Atlanta quarterback] Matt [Ryan] and [New Orleans quarterback] Drew [Brees] have been around for a while and [Carolina quarterback] Cam [Newton is] coming up and so is Jameis. Obviously the guys are smart and I think Jameis understand how to get the ball where it needs to be, I think he understands defenses, I think he understands his read, I think he understands how to audible and to get them in a position to be successful and for a young guy, that’s a big deal. That’s what makes him fun to play against. He’s a big time competitor that loves playing football and we’ve got to make sure we’re ready to go.”
 
(On comparisons between Newton and Winston)
“I think [they’re both] big, physical guys that can run around a little bit. I think that’s what’s good about [them], is that and then also that they’re competitors. I think Cam’s a great competitor, I think Jameis is a great competitor and I think they’re both guys that love to go out there and play football.”
 
(On Carolina’s defensive struggles this season)
“For us, it’s not how we wanted to start the year. I think we played well in the first few games and then last game kind of got out of control, so that’s not like us and we’re going to do our best to make sure that doesn’t happen again.”
 
(On how important it is for a team’s quarterback to ‘be himself’)
“I think that’s the most important thing. Guys in this league, and especially on our team, understand when guys aren’t themselves and when guys are putting on a front or being fake and that’s not the way to do it. Guys aren’t going to listen to you, guys know that you’re not being yourself and that’s not something that guys respond well to, so I think that you’ve got to be yourself and at the same time, you’ve got to understand when it’s time to work, it’s time to work and I think Cam does a good job with that and I think from what I’ve seen on tape and from what you hear about Jameis, he kind of does the same thing.”
 
(On how important it is to be authentic with your teammates)
“Like I said, guys understand when you’re forcing stuff and you’re not being yourself and guys won’t respond well to that. So I think for me, whether you’re a quiet guy, you’re a loud guy, you’ve got always be the same person because when you’re somebody you’re not, guys don’t respond well and it’s not a good look because stuff comes out as forced, or not truly from within. To be yourself is the most important thing to be.”
 
(On if it helps the Panthers that they have started the year poorly in years past and still finished with a strong record)
“Yeah, we’ve been in this situation before a couple years ago and you understand that there’s two ways to go, you can go up or down and you’ve got to pick it. And you can’t just pick it, you’ve got to really rely on the fact that you’ve got to work to get where you want to be and [Head Coach Ron Rivera] does a good job of talking about that, we’ve got a lot of older guys on our team that understand that stuff isn’t just given to you and we’ve really got to crank down and work hard to get back on track.”
 
(On what changes for a losing team to become a Super Bowl contender)
“I think it starts from the top and it works its way down. I think it starts with Coach Rivera and works its way down. He’s a very positive, energetic guy that loves the players and he’s very even-keeled and I think that’s something that helps us out a lot. When we struggled and we were 1-3, he wasn’t upset, he’s really honest with you and tells you what you need to hear and that works its way down. I think we have a lot of older guys [like center] Ryan Kalil and [tight end] Greg Olsen and [defensive end] Charles Johnson and [quarterback] Derek Andreson and Cam’s an older guy and [linebacker] Thomas [Davis]. We have older guys throughout the team that keep guys’ heads on straight and the management has done a good job of bringing good guys in. The culture starts with Coach and the older guys that have been here through the times that weren’t so great and we’ve been fortunate to have guys, like I said, with Ryan and Thomas and Greg, guys that understand what it takes to win and understand what it takes to hold a team together when things aren’t going well. And at the same time, when things are going well they’re able to keep guys down to earth and disciplined and understand the fact that we got here for a reason and we can’t just let up because we’re here now.”
 
(On how big of a role players play in changing a team’s culture)
“It’s huge, obviously the locker room is a big place and they’ve got to gel on the field and when it comes down to it, your guys have to buy in to what the coaches are talking about and we have guys that buy in and want to be successful and want to work hard and listen and do what they’re coached to do. So the players have a big part of what it is too and obviously I think we’re very fortunate to have a guy like Coach Rivera and all of our coordinators and other coaches do a great job of kind of staying positive, but at the same time telling us what we need to hear.”
                                                                                                                       
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