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Critical season for Rivera with Panthers

The SportsXchange

CHARLOTTE, N. C. -- Three years into his tenure, Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera hopes a more cohesive team will help keep him around for a fourth season.

Rivera enters the 2013 season on one of the hottest seats in the league, but there are reasons to be optimistic.

The Panthers have a good amount of talent, led by 2011 Offensive Rookie of the Year quarterback Cam Newton and 2012 Defensive Player of the Year linebacker Luke Kuechly.

When Kuechly took over the starting job in the middle last year, he helped solidify what had been an inconsistent defense over its past 20 games. Even with three-time Pro Bowler Jon Beason set to return from injury, Kuechly is growing into a role as a leader.

"That's probably one thing we've lacked in the first two years," Rivera said of his team's communication on defense. "Last year it was a new middle linebacker. Now that Luke is much more comfortable and a lot more expressive in terms of the checks and calls he has to make. That's been really good.'

Newton feels the team is on the verge of something good.

"This town, this city, this state has been dreaming for a winning season and as a player you owe that to the fans and you owe that to yourself." Newton said.

-- Running back Jonathan Stewart, who had surgery on his left ankle in January, is not doing much during OTAs. Stewart, guard Edmund Kugbila (leg) and cornerback Captain Munnerlyn (abdominal strain) have been mostly limited to stretching and pedaling an exercise bike on the sideline.

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