The Observer's Joseph Person had a very interesting, one-on-one interview with Panther coach Ron Rivera last week that he split into two parts and has published it here and here.
After reading it all, the most unusual analogy I thought Rivera made was when he said: "I guess, to me, Brandon LaFell encapsulates who we are."
Brandon LaFell? The Panthers' No.2 receiver? The one who holds the team record with a 91-yard touchdown reception but who also had nine games last season in which he had two or fewer catches?
That's the Panthers' symbol? Not Cam Newton? Not Jon Beason? Not Double Trouble or Jordan Gross or Ryan Kalil or any other more high-profile Panther?
When you think about it, though, the analogy does make some sense. Rivera used it after saying earlier in the interview of LaFell: "I didn't want him to feel like he's arrived." I think the thing that Brandon has to always keep in front of him is the big picture and that is his continual growth."
Of the Panthers, Rivera later said: "We've got to keep the carrot in front of us."
In other words, keep working. Stay hungry. Rivera said he doesn't "give a crap" that some people are picking the Panthers to win the NFC South over controversy-ridden New Orleans this season.
And he's right. This team does have some stars. But it's the middle third of the roster -- say, players No.10-35 on the roster -- that probably really needs to get better for it to go from 6-10 in 2011 to a playoff team in 2012.
LaFell is a truer indication of the team's roster than an athletic outlier like Newton.
It's players like LaFell (who had 36 catches for 613 yards in 2011 as a parttime starter but who needs to show he can make more tough catches over the middle this season and improve his blocking).
And it's whoever the No.2 cornerback turns out to be. And veteran defensive tackle Ron Edwards, returning from injury. And punt returner Joe Adams. And new utility back Mike Tolbert and Luke Kuechly and second tight end Gary Barnidge so on and so on.
Those are the guys who will play such a large part in making or breaking the season -- the guys who will be given opportunities to make plays when the other team tries to take away Newton, Steve Smith, Beason, Double Trouble, Greg Olsen and so on.
So while I had never thought of it that way -- the Panthers being symbolized by LaFell -- I'm now somewhat enamored with Rivera's analogy. It's going to make me track his progress more closely this season, and see whether it really does mirror the team's performance.
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