Left tackle Jordan Gross and wideout Steve Smith were tabbed as automatic captains because of their leadership qualities and years of service to the organization. This is Gross’ sixth year and Smith’s fifth year in that role.
Players voted for the other four slots. Linebacker Thomas Davis was elected for the third time while center Ryan Kalil, quarterback Cam Newton and linebacker Luke Kuechly will be first timers. Last year the team had five captains, two on offense, two on defense and one on special teams.
"We have two guys (Gross and Smith) that are senior leaders that are always there," Rivera told Panthers.com. "But we have young guys that have the opportunity now to step up – their teammates are looking to them to lead. They are both at key positions – one is a quarterback, the other one is a middle linebacker – so I'm excited about that. But it's not like you don't have other guys that can step up at any point. There are a lot of guys that don't get the 'C' that still have the ability to step forward and make a difference."
The only selection that may come as a bit of surprise to fans is Newton, who had a rough patch last season where he seemed to blame others for the team’s early season failures and there were questions about his leadership abilities. He rebounded to help the Panthers win five of their last six to finish 7-9 and during training camp he professed his desire to win over his teammates in 2013. It appears he did.
Kuechly, the Associated Press 2012 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, made a splash last year breaking a team record for tackles. He moved into his more familiar middle linebacker position when Jon Beason went down with a season ending injury and was such a force he has forced Beason over to the weakside slot.