Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera took more questions Wednesday about a practice squad receiver than the wideout who came in as a rookie and immediately became quarterback Cam Newton’s favorite target.
For the record, Rivera thinks both players can help.
While first-round pick Kelvin Benjamin caught 73 passes for 1,008 yards and a team-leading nine touchdowns in 2014, Stephen Hill remained a popular conversation topic among fans after the Panthers picked him up after the second-round pick from 2012 had been waived by the Jets.
With his 6-foot-4 frame and good speed, the idea of Hill lining up alongside Benjamin is tantalizing. Hill’s problem in New York was holding on to the ball, as he struggled with dropped passes.
But Rivera believes Hill’s year on the practice squad allowed him to relax. Rivera appreciated Hill’s approach to a thankless job.
“He had been a second-round pick. He had no assumptions, no entitlement. He ran all scout team for us. He ran hard, gave great looks,” Rivera said during the final day of the NFL owners meetings. “You watch a guy perform who could very easily dog it, and he didn’t. You saw him grow. You saw him make catches. You saw him get comfortable in his own skin again.”
While Ted Ginn Jr. is expected to slide into his former spot as the No. 3 wideout, the Panthers could use another receiver to stretch the field. Rivera said Hill, who had offseason surgery on his thumb, will get a chance.
Meanwhile, Rivera expects improvement from Benjamin this year, in part because there is no second-season wall.
“The thing that was interesting about Kelvin is you saw him hit the rookie wall because of our style of play and how long the year was,” Rivera said. “But once he got his second wind, then you saw the productivity come back up.”
Buying in bulk: Rivera got a firsthand update on defensive tackle Star Lotulelei’s surgically repaired foot when he recently ran into him in Charlotte.
“He and his family were there at Sam’s Club and he seemed to be moving pretty good,” Rivera said. “He said he’d actually just seen Dr. (Robert) Anderson. He told me he had a great report, that his foot was doing really well.”
Lotulelei had surgery in January after breaking a bone in his foot during practice before the playoff loss at Seattle. Lotulelei started 13 games last season, finishing with 21 tackles and two sacks.
Rivera said reserve tight end Brandon Williams also had offseason surgery on his thumb.
Changes coming to the PAT: NFL officials haven’t overhauled the extra point yet, but they’re expected to in May when owners meet in San Francisco.
A lively discussion led to a number of proposals to jazz up a play that Patriots coach Bill Belichick has been arguing for a couple of years has become too automatic.
Some coaches argued for doing away with the after-point kick entirely, while one proposal would give teams a choice: Go for two points from the 1 1/2-yard line or line up at the 15 for what would be a 33-yard kick for one point.
The league is also looking at allowing the defense to score points on the play, which would follow the college model.
As it stands now, the spot for both PATs and two-point tries is the 2, although the league experimented with longer extra points last preseason.
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