Rivera impressed by Newton

INDIANAPOLIS -- It figures to be a busy NFL Combine for Ron Rivera.

The former Bears defensive coordinator and current Carolina head coach inherits a team fresh off a 2-14 season. Barring a trade, the Panthers will select No. 1 overall in the upcoming draft, and without a proven quarterback on the roster, there is speculation Carolina could draft Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton.

"As far as skill set goes, the young man has tremendous physical talents," Rivera said Thursday at Lucas Oil Stadium. "He's got natural size, the ability to run, a tremendous arm, and a pretty good pocket presence already. He's well on his way, but again, we've got to go through that process. We're going to be at his workout, we'll bring him in obviously and visit with him and go through that whole process to get a feel for what he already knows and how well he'll learn."

Many consider the first pick a curse, considering all the guaranteed money (in the old CBA) and expectations that accompany every player selected No. 1. Because so much is at stake, Rivera vows the Panthers will look closely at players' backgrounds.

Newton and Auburn were the subjects of an NCAA investigation last year over allegations Newton's father tried to solicit money from Mississippi State during his son's recruitment.

"The process will be very extensive," Rivera said. "We will go through it, explore every avenue and we also keep an open mind to the fact that a lot of the things these guys do, they do when they're 18 years old. To judge people, without realizing they've grown, would be unfair. We're going to try and keep an open mind with everybody we do this process with.

"There are eight to ten young guys right now [we're looking at]. By the time we get done, that number may dwindle down or stay up there. But we will go through the process."