Riley was being groomed to back up Jones.
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“I’ve been preparing for this backup (middle linebacker) role the whole offseason,” Riley said. “I actually played the whole (exhibition season) at middle linebacker. My job was to actually know all of the positions when I got here because they didn’t know what they were going to do with me.”
Riley started last season as the weakside linebacker, but lost his spot after missing too many tackles. He suffered a knee injury and then flourished on special teams upon his return.
He’s set to make his first start in the middle.
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“When I was backing up Deion, I always prepared like I was going to start,” Riley said.
Defensive coordinator Marquand Manuel has a simple message for Riley.
“Just come in and dominate your gap,” Manuel said.
Riley will take over the signal-calling role on the defense, too.
“What is awesome is that I get to talk to Duke every play,” Manuel said. “A lot of people forget that. … I can talk to him every play and keep him balanced. With disciplined eyes, he’ll be fine.”
Riley, who started six games and played in 12 as a rookie, knows the Panthers will test him.
“I hope so,” Riley said. “I want them to come after me. Please. I’m ready for what ever.”