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Panthers spend extra time preparing for NFL digital draft scenarios
Pandemic limits interaction between prospects, staff
Published Monday, April 6, 2020 10:13 pm
by Ashley Mahoney | The Charlotte Post

With quarterback Cam Newton, linebacker Luke Kuechly and tight end Greg Olsen moved on through cuts, retirement or free agency, the Panthers are in need of new leadership heading into the NFL draft April 23-25.

The Carolina Panthers are preparing for an NFL Draft unlike any other.

The league announced today it will conduct a virtual draft to comply with government stay-at-home orders, as well as health guidelines surrounding COVID-19. The draft was scheduled to take place in Las Vegas April 23-25.

The league took pre-draft visits to facilities by teams off the table on March 13. NFL-related physicals have been indefinitely postponed until the virus is under control. Team facilities have been closed since March 26.

The Panthers have the following picks: seventh overall, 38 (second round), 69 (third), 113 (fourth), 152 (fifth), 184 (sixth) and No. 221 (seventh).

For someone like general manager Marty Hurney, who prefers seeing players up close and face-to-face interaction versus digital study and phone calls, COVID-19 has forced him to adapt.

“It’s hard this time of year,” he said. “We all get a lot out of going to pro days, but obviously we’ve all been at home. We’re using teleconferencing. I never thought I’d say that, an old dog like me. We’ve been using teleconferencing with the scouts and with the coaches, doing calls with some players. Everything has basically been through that. We’ve basically been meeting just as much, probably more than we have in the past, because we’re not going to pro days. You spend the time on conference calls. You spend the time watching tape.”

While coronavirus has everyone inside, Hurney noted it gives decision-makers more time to meet with scouts and coaches, offering an odd silver lining in the midst of uncertainty.

“We’re used to adapting and adjusting every day,” he said. We are going to feel as prepared going into this draft as we would if we were going to pro days. You have to adjust. You have to try to get as much information as you can. You do as many teleconferencing calls with players, and talk to them that way. There’s always a lot of different ways to reach the same destination.”

Hurney emphasized getting ready for different draft scenarios before official word came down from the league the draft would be conducted digitally. The Panthers will do so with a first-time NFL head coach in Matt Rhule, but Hurney is not concerned.

“The good thing about us as an organization is we communicate very well,” Hurney said.

In addition to Rhule’s arrival, the Panthers also parted ways with quarterback Cam Newton and brought in Teddy Bridgewater as his replacement. Hurney described letting Newton go as a particularly difficult decision, noting he drafted Newton first overall in 2011. Newton’s not the only face missing after a long run in Carolina, however. Linebacker Luke Kuechly, drafted a year after Newton, retired during the offseason, and tight end Greg Olsen signed a free agent deal with Seattle. Running back Christian McCaffrey assumed the torch as team leader, reaching out to recent signees like Bridgewater, wide receiver Robby Anderson and linebacker Tahir Whitehead. Whomever the Panthers draft first, McCaffrey will likely be among the first to reach out to him, too.

“From the end of last year, Christian has really started to take that leadership role very seriously, and I think he’s only going to grow in that area,” Hurney said.



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