Rivera looking forward to fixing defense

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Going into his first year as a head coach, Ron Rivera wasn't given much of a chance to think. When the lockout wiped out his first chance at an offseason program and its quick end forced a rapid-fire installation, it left him without as much of a chance to draw Xs and Os as he'd have preferred.

Going into his first year as a head coach, Ron Rivera wasn't given much of a chance to think.

When the lockout wiped out his first chance at an offseason program and its quick end forced a rapid-fire installation, it left him without as much of a chance to draw Xs and Os as he'd have preferred.

Now that things have settled down, Rivera said he hopes to be a little more hands-on with the Panthers' biggest problem -- fixing a defense that never had a chance to get off the ground a year ago. Last season, he was learning to be the man in charge, but he said at the Scouting Combine he wants to get more involved.

"Now that I've gone through the first season and understand what's expected of me, I think I can help a little bit more on the defensive side," Rivera said. "One thing you learn and adjust to is really what's needed or what's called upon for a head coach to do in terms of his duties.

"That was a little bit different for me, obviously, and I can be involved more with that side of the ball."

With a new system going in and a quick burst of injuries robbing them of key parts, the Panthers were slow out of the gate, and finished the year on a better note to get up to 28th in the league in yards allowed.

That was admittedly a frustrating thing for the veteran defensive coordinator, who had run top-shelf defenses in San Diego and Chicago previously.

"Without a doubt," Rivera said. "It was frustrating as a defensive coach to see us struggle at times. The thing I like to point out is how we played the last six games. I thought defensively we did things we were capable of. I think once guys got a feel for who we are and what we're trying to become as a D, I thought they played very well.

"A lot of these young guys played that we didn't expect to play last season."

Rivera also defended the work of Sean McDermott, who was criticized in Philadelphia in large part because the young coach followed the late Jim Johnson, and may not have been ready to fill those shoes. But Rivera said the early injuries that took away defensive tackle Ron Edwards and linebackers Jon Beason and Thomas Davis had more to do with the slow adjustment than anything McDermott did or did not do.

"I thought Sean McDermott did a nice job for us, in light of the situation we had," Rivera said. "Right off the bat we lose our starting nose and then we lose our two starting linebackers our first two weeks. It was rough, but I thought he handled it extremely well and I think he developed along with the players.

"We've got to get to know these guys all over again because we're looking forward to getting a number of those players back healthy."

Adding parts to that defense will be critical, and while the most glaring personnel need might be at cornerback, Rivera said he wants to take a big-picture look at what goes into building a better defense here, which could lead them to look at other positions with early draft picks. Playing in the quarterback-rich NFC South adds to the urgency of fixing the secondary, but Rivera stressed that pressuring the quarterback is equally important.

"Not just necessarily the corner, but the pass rush," he said when asked about draft priorities. "I think you have to have pass rush. You have to put pressure on the quarterback, as well. So I think it's a combination or a mixture of both."

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