INDIANAPOLIS – “Team AJC” has arrived at the 2011 NFL scouting combine.
Today, the following position groups will stream through the interview room: Offensive linemen, kickers, punters, long snappers and tight ends.
Some team executives have been through already. Denver coach John Fox just finished. A. Detroit coach Jim Schwartz is finished. (I’m going to ask him about Chris Houston and Erik Coleman when he gets off the podium.)
Miami’s Jeff Ireland, Buffalo’s Chan Gailey and new Carolina coach Ron Rivera have already spoken to the gathered media.
Rivera didn’t rule out the Panthers selecting Auburn quarterback Cam Newton, of Westlake High, with the No. 1 overall pick in the draft.
“There are 8 to 10 young men that we feel fit our needs real well,” Rivera said. “We’ll explore every avenue with them. We are going to try to keep an open mind with everybody we deal with.”
He’s believes the Panthers will face an uphill battle in the NFC South with the Falcons, Saints and Bucs all coming off 10-win seasons.
“It’s going to most certainly be a challenge,” Rivera said.
He also addressed whether wide receiver Steve Smith will be retained by the Panthers.
“Steve is a Carolina Panther,” Rivera said. “Let us put it all together and see if it works first.”
Rivera, who interviewed for the Falcons head coaching position before they hired Bobby Petrino for the 2007 season, could have been in the NFC South earlier.
“I’m very excited and it’s great to have the opportunity,” Rivera said.
–D. Orlando Ledbetter, The Atlanta Falcons beat blog