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Panthers' Ron Rivera: Improved communication a key on D

As a former NFL linebacker, linebackers coach and defensive coordinator, first-year head coach Ron Rivera could not have been pleased when his Carolina Panthers ranked 28th in total defense, 25th in rushing and 32nd in passing last season.

There wasn't one specific reason for the poor statistical showing. Some were due to the team not having any OTAs or minicamps in Rivera's first year on the job, some could be attributed to the play of the team's safeties. Injuries hit each level of the defense a season ago, including a season-ending injury to middle linebacker Jon Beason, which affected the communication on defense.

Communication is one area that Rivera expects will improve this season, he recently told Joseph Person of the Charlotte Observer.

"It was for us," Rivera said of the team's safety play being an issue. "In what you do defensively, you have to have a guy step up. But at the same time, you've also got to have a guy in front of them that's a communicator. I love Dan Connor, but Dan Connor's not a communicator. He's a hard-nosed, grindstone type guy. And that was tough on our safeties. But now you've got Jon Beason, who communicates like you can't believe. You've got Luke Kuechly, who shows he knows how to communicate. So right through the middle of our defense we've gotten better. Now, knock on wood, we stay healthy. Because that's probably the biggest problem we had more so than anything on defense really was getting healthy.

"Once the injuries started coming, we had to change the personality of how we wanted to do things and what we wanted to do. Now we have something where for the last five weeks, we've been able to work on this in the classroom (portion of Phases One and Two of the offseason workout program)."

Rivera added that constantly shuffling personnel last season led to players not knowing that they're assignments were, particularly against the run.

"We may have been lined up properly, but we didn't fit the run properly," River said. "Probably the best way to put it -- in some instances, in some circumstances, we had a lack of communication."

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