NFC South: Senior Bowl

Report: No early return for Payton

January, 5, 2013
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All those New Orleans fans hoping suspended coach Sean Payton will be reinstated soon might as well forget about that possibility.

In fact, Payton might not be back on duty quite as soon as originally anticipated. The early word was that he could return to work immediately after the Super Bowl.

But ESPN’s Adam Schefter has reported that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell isn’t expected to meet with Payton before the Super Bowl. Schefter’s report also said that Payton won’t be allowed to apply for reinstatement until the day after the Super Bowl.

Even if Goodell moves quickly on the reinstatement process, it’s not likely Payton will be allowed back to work until at least a few days after the Super Bowl.

That could put Payton at a disadvantage if he’s going to make any changes to his coaching staff. Many moves already are taking part around the league, and the final wave usually comes at the Senior Bowl in late January.

But Payton won’t be allowed to attend the Senior Bowl, and that could put him in a difficult spot to make any staff changes. The Saints might be better off to let interim head coach Joe Vitt and general manager Mickey Loomis make any changes before Payton’s eligible to return.

Ryan Tannehill getting back on track

February, 14, 2012
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BRADENTON, Fla. -- The boot was off Tuesday and Ryan Tannehill's right arm looked just fine.

The Texas A&M product, who is considered one of the top quarterback prospects in the 2012 NFL draft, said the foot injury that forced him to miss the Senior Bowl is healing fast. Tannehill said he will head to Indianapolis for the scouting combine next week and will go through medical testing and meeting with teams, but will not participate in any of the on-field drills.

Tannehill said he’ll save that for his pro-day workout in late March when he expects to be 100-percent healthy. Tannehill had been in a walking boot until recent days after having surgery to repair a fractured fifth metatarsal a little more than three weeks ago.

The surgery was performed in Charlotte by Carolina Panthers team physician Robert Anderson, one of the best-known foot specialists in the sports world.

“Dr. Anderson basically put a screw in there,’’ Tannehill said. “It’s locked down and I shouldn’t have any problems going forward.’’

Tannehill will stay out of the physical part of the combine, but he wasn’t holding back on the field Tuesday at IMG Football Academy, where he’s taking part in pre-combine training with about 30 other draft prospects.

After fellow quarterbacks Russell Wilson (Wisconsin) and Kirk Cousins (Michigan State) finished the on-field portion of their workday, Tannehill remained on the field for about 15 minutes getting one-on-one work with former Carolina quarterback Chris Weinke, who runs IMG’s football operations. Tannehill said the fracture happened during a January workout at IMG, but Anderson told him it probably was the result of a pre-existing stress fracture.

Tannehill said he plans to come directly back to Bradenton after the combine and begin doing more intense on-field work with Weinke.

“We’ll come back and push it pretty hard,’’ Tannehill said. “I’m thinking I should be getting close to 100 percent by right after the combine and we’ll really jump into the on-field stuff then to make up for the time I missed and get ready for pro day.’’

Tannehill has been mentioned as a possible first-round pick by some draft experts. Last year, Carolina’s Cam Newton and Minnesota’s Christian Ponder came to IMG to work with Weinke and both ended up starting as rookies.

"I knew that Cam and Christian worked with coach Weinke and he helped elevate them,’’ Tannehill said. “That’s what you look for in a QB coach is someone who can take you to the next level. We lost a little time because of the foot, but we’ll make up for it.’’

(Note: I'll have much more from my visit to IMG, including features on some top prospects over the coming days.)

NFC South evening update

January, 25, 2012
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Time for an evening look at Wednesday's headlines from around the NFC South.
  • John Manasso writes about some changes that could be coming for Atlanta’s defense now that Mike Nolan is the coordinator. It remains to be seen what the Falcons will do about potential free agents in cornerback Brent Grimes, linebacker Curtis Lofton and defensive end John Abraham. But I think it’s fair to suggest that no matter what happens with those three, the Falcons will be looking to improve their pass rush and play in the defensive backfield.
  • Here’s a list of highlights from the Saints’ 2011 season. No surprise that Drew Brees breaking Dan Marino’s record for passing yards in a season is No. 1. Even as a jaded journalist, I’m always going to remember I was in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome for that game and got to witness history.
  • Here’s some potentially interesting news. The NFL, which forbids players from tweeting during regular-season games, will make an exception during the Pro Bowl. Since Atlanta receiver Roddy White will be there, his Twitter account could be more interesting than the all-star game.
  • With Indianapolis hiring Chuck Pagano as head coach, New Orleans offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael and offensive line coach Aaron Kromer, who had been candidates, apparently will be staying with the Saints. Of course, Carmichael and Kromer could suddenly appear on Tampa Bay’s list, if they’re not already there.
  • Speaking of Tampa Bay’s search, the Bucs reportedly had a second interview with Mike Sherman Wednesday. Does that mean the Bucs are getting closer to finally making a hire? Not necessarily, the Bucs have been so deliberately slow in this search and pulled a total surprise when they unsuccessfully attempted to hire Chip Kelly. They could be closing in on Sherman, but they could be secretly meeting with someone else.
  • The Panthers interviewed Wisconsin quarterback Russell Wilson at the Senior Bowl. Again, I urge caution into reading too much into pre-draft interviews. But, Wilson to the Panthers with a late-round draft pick, carries some logic. The Panthers could be looking for a backup for Cam Newton. Derek Anderson is scheduled to be a free agent and the Panthers may cut Jimmy Clausen loose.
  • Richard Rodgers has been added as Carolina’s assistant special teams coach. He played with coach Ron Rivera in college at California.

At last, details of Reggie Bush trade

January, 25, 2012
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For months, Saints fans have been asking for full details on last summer’s trade of Reggie Bush to the Miami Dolphins.

For the longest time, those details seemed to be one of the league’s best secrets. We knew the Dolphins got Bush and the Saints got safety Jonathan Amaya, but that’s all we knew for sure.

But it looks like we finally have an answer. The Saints still haven’t said anything official. But Miami general manager Jeff Ireland finally filled in the blanks on the draft-pick compensation part of the deal Monday during a break in Senior Bowl practices.

Brace yourself, New Orleans fans. You’re not going to be jumping up and down about this one because your team is not gaining much. The Saints will move up either 18 or 19 picks in the sixth round of the draft.

Ireland confirmed that in addition to the trade of Bush for Amaya, the only other item in the deal is that the two teams swapped sixth-round picks.

The Dolphins will holed either the eighth or ninth pick in each round. The exact spot will be determined by a coin flip with the Carolina Panthers at the scouting combine in February.

So the Saints will receive either the eighth or ninth pick of the sixth round. But the Saints also have to send their own sixth-round pick to Miami. That’s the 27th pick of the sixth round.

NFC South evening update

January, 24, 2012
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Time for a look at Tuesday's top headlines from around the NFC South.

There’s been a lot of speculation that the Panthers will use an early draft pick on a cornerback this year. It could happen, but there was one guy that showed up at the Senior Bowl that doesn’t think that’s a great idea. That’s starting cornerback Captain Munnerlyn, who lives in Alabama in the offseason. Munnerlyn pledged to beat out any cornerback the Panthers draft. Munnerlyn is one of those undersized guys that plays with a chip on his shoulder. Nothing wrong with that. You want all your players to be competitive and that’s a trait that comes in especially handy at cornerback.

This is just speculation, but Charlie Campbell suggests the Bucs might want to consider New York Giants offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride for their open coaching spot. That’s actually not a bad idea. Although he’s best known for taking a sideline punch from Buddy Ryan, that was a long time ago and Gilbride has a reputation as a solid offensive coach. He might be better than some of the guys the Bucs have talked to.

There’s no agreement yet, but the executive director of the Georgia World Congress Center said negotiations are continuing with the Falcons about a proposed open-air stadium.

Alabama coach Nick Saban, who coached Julio Jones at Alabama, praised the Falcons for trading up to get the receiver in last year’s draft.

Former Carolina defensive backs coach Ron Meek has landed the same position with San Diego. Ironically, Meeks’ replacement with the Panthers, Steve Wilks, had been the secondary coach for the Chargers.

Georgia cornerback Brandon Boykin has interviewed with the Falcons and Panthers at the Senior Bowl. As I do every year at this time, don’t put too much stock into which teams interview which players in the pre-draft events and what coaches are supposedly watching certain position groups during practices and games. All teams do their homework on every player eligible for the draft. Heck, sometimes a bad interview gets a prospect pulled of a team’s draft board.

This Insider piece says the Carolina Panthers were one of the top five underachieving teams in 2011. Let’s just say I respectfully disagree with that. The Panthers won two games in 2010. They tripled their win total in 2011 and they did that in a year with no offseason, while they hurriedly installed a new offense and turned things over to rookie quarterback Cam Newton, who had a record-setting season. Yeah, the Panthers had some big problems on defense, but I think injuries to linebackers Jon Beason and Thomas Davis and defensive tackle Ron Edwards played a big roles in the defensive issues.

Bucs' search approaching crunch time

January, 23, 2012
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I’ve been saying all along the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have been wise to move slowly in their coaching search.

They promised an exhaustive search and they’re coming through on that. It appeared to be ending Sunday night when the Bucs reportedly were working out a contract to bring in Oregon coach Chip Kelly. But that changed Monday morning when the news broke that Kelly had decided to pull out and stay at Oregon.

The Bucs have interviewed at least eight other known candidates and only one of them, Joe Philbin who wound up with the Miami job, is off the market. It’s possible the Bucs could want to interview some more candidates that have been tied up with the postseason and New York Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell could be one of them.

But the Bucs are approaching a point where continuing to be exhaustive can be counterproductive. The week of Senior Bowl practices starts Monday in Mobile, Ala. It’s not imperative the Bucs have their new coach there to see the college prospects. The scouting department can handle that.

However, the Bucs are getting close to running the risk of putting their new coach at a big disadvantage. For those who haven’t been to the Senior Bowl, let me describe it a bit.

Sure, it’s about the players. This is the first real step in beginning to determine where they’ll be ranked on draft boards. But the Senior Bowl is more than that. It’s also a convention for coaches and there’s as much networking going on there as there is at a job fair.

When John Fox was about to get the Carolina job back in 2002, I watched him on the sidelines during Senior Bowl practices. Coach after coach walked up to him and handed him their business card or a piece of paper with their name on it.

Later in the week, I sat with Fox and his agent in the Mobile airport, waiting for a flight to Charlotte. As we talked, Fox pulled out the stack of cards, he had received. I’m guessing the total amount of cards was somewhere around 200. A day or two later, Fox was hired and there’s no doubt he called some of the numbers on those cards as he filled out his staff.

Cards are being handed out in Mobile right now as teams with new coaches try to fill their staffs and other teams try to patch holes on existing staffs and the supply of coaches without jobs is going to dwindle very soon.

The Bucs, Raiders and Colts currently still have vacancies for head coaches. If the Bucs don’t hire a coach soon, he’s not going to have a deep pool of candidates to hire as assistants. Putting together a strong staff is one of the most important things a coach does.

Former Tampa Bay coach Raheem Morris hired an initial staff that included Jeff Jagodzinski as offensive coordinator and Jim Bates as defensive coordinator. Jagodzinski was fired before the end of Morris' first preseason and Bates was gone by the middle of that season. One of the knocks on Morris in league circles was he didn't have a very good group of assistant coaches.

The Bucs have pledged to learn from past mistakes. But, if they don't hire a coach soon, they may once again end up with a group of assistants that's less than stellar.

Secondary coach leaves Saints

January, 19, 2012
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New Orleans secondary coach Tony Oden is leaving the team to take the same position with the Jacksonville Jaguars, Mike Triplett reports.

The Saints are searching for a new defensive coordinator to replace Gregg Williams, who left for the same job in St. Louis. It’s not a given that any potential coordinator would want to keep all of Williams’ former assistants and that may be why Oden was willing to make a lateral move.

Jacksonville defensive coordinator Mel Tucker and Oden grew up together in Ohio, so that may be another reason for the move.

The Saints reportedly have interviewed Steve Spagnuolo for the coordinator position, but coach Sean Payton said the process could last into next week and implied he may interview other candidates at the Senior Bowl.

Around the NFC South

January, 19, 2012
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Time for a look at the top Thursday morning headlines from around the NFC South.

It already had been reported that New Orleans offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael had been given permission to interview for the Raiders’ job as head coach. But reports also are surfacing that the Colts have interest in interviewing Carmichael after they fired Jim Caldwell. The Saints also have to find a defensive coordinator to replace Gregg Williams. The front-runner is Steve Spagnuolo, who either interviewed Wednesday or will interview Thursday (reports on his schedule have varied). They also need to find a receivers coach to replace Curtis Johnson, who has left to become head coach at Tulane.

New Orleans receiver Lance Moore missed the final three games, including the playoff loss to San Francisco, with a hamstring injury. Moore discusses his disappointment about the San Francisco result and on not being able to play in that game.

We told you Wednesday that new Atlanta defensive coordinator Mike Nolan plans to stick with the 4-3 scheme. But Knox Bardeen adds a little more to Nolan’s future plans. Nolan said the Falcons might use the nickel package more often, because offenses are passing more frequently.

The proposed budget by Georgia Governor Nathan Deal includes $15 million for a land purchase, and a local official says that money could be used to buy the land where a new outdoor stadium for the Falcons could be built.

The Bucs don’t have a new coaching staff yet, so they have only their scouting staff working the practices for the East-West Shrine Game. A general manager for another NFC South team said that’s not unusual, that these practices are generally watched by scouting staffs and a few general managers. But most coaching staffs attend next week’s Senior Bowl in their entirety. There’s no guarantee the Bucs will have a new coach before the Senior Bowl. Even if they do, it’s almost certain he won’t have his entire staff in place in time for the Senior Bowl. Stephen Holder points out the situation puts the Tampa Bay scouts in a bit of a unique position, because they don’t know what schemes the team will be using.

Alabama cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick is a name that has been tied to the Panthers with the No. 8 or 9 (depending on a coin flip) in the upcoming NFL draft. But Kirkpatrick reportedly was charged recently with marijuana possession. Could that change his stock with the Panthers? For years, Carolina went out of its way to avoid players who had off-field problems. That changed a bit last season after the departure of coach John Fox. The Panthers took a chance on cornerback Brandon Hogan, who had some off-field issues, in the fourth-round last year. But there’s a big difference when you’re talking about first-round picks and fourth-round picks. As long as owner Jerry Richardson and general manager Marty Hurney are running the show, I doubt you’ll see the Panthers taking chances on guys who have been in trouble, unless they fully investigate the issue and decide it’s unfounded.

Are Buccaneers going for the record?

January, 17, 2012
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I’m just looking at the latest on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ coaching search and starting to wonder if the Bucs are trying to set some sort of record.

The latest is the Bucs will interview Green Bay offensive coordinator Joe Philbin and quarterbacks Tom Clements at some point soon. The Bucs are interviewing Cincinnati defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer and Carolina offensive coordinator Rob Chudzkinski on Tuesday.

The Bucs previously interviewed former NFL head coaches Mike Sherman, Marty Schottenheimer and Brad Childress as well as Tennessee defensive coordinator Jerry Gray.

Check my math here, but assuming the Bucs do interview Clements and Philbin, that will bring the number of interviews to eight. And that also is assuming the media as reported every coach who has interviewed. We chase these things like crazy, but sometimes an interview or two can slip through the cracks. The Bucs also could decide to interview more candidates that are still involved in the playoffs. There’s been some speculation about New York Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell possibly being a candidate.

But, for now, the number will stand at eight, probably later this week. I seriously think that might be some kind of record. ESPN Stats & Information does a wonderful job, but does not keep numbers on how many candidates have interviewed for any given job throughout history.

I’ve been through a few coaching searches in my day. Generally speaking, most teams interview three or four candidates and I think five is the highest number I’ve ever seen.

But I’m not seeing any huge drawback with Tampa Bay’s methodical approach. Indications are, the Bucs could narrow their list and bring back a few candidates for second interviews. That makes it sound like we might not see a hire for at least another week.

Assistant coaches are being hired all over the league and the Bucs may be missing out on some good candidates. But there still are lots of other assistants available. The East-West Shrine Game is this week and the Senior Bowl is next week.

Ideally, you’d like to have your full coaching staff in place for those two events, so the coaches can get a good look at the college prospects. But any assistant that’s available will be at the Senior Bowl and will be watching players on their own.

Besides, the coaching staffs aren’t the ones who do the bulk of the work at the college all-star games. The scouting staff does that.

Yeah, there comes a point when coaches need to start evaluating the current roster and getting ready for free agency. But, as long as Tampa Bay has its staff in place by the end of the month, there’s plenty of time for that.

I know a lot of Tampa Bay fans are looking at the candidates and saying there’s no one with a “wow factor." That’s true, but was there anybody with a “wow factor’’ out there to begin with? Maybe Jeff Fisher, who ended up in St. Louis. But Fisher is a good, but not tremendous coach and his stock was elevated in a year when Bill Cowher, Tony Dungy and a few other big names refused to join the league-wide candidate pool.

The Bucs aren’t going for the “wow factor" and there’s nothing wrong with that. The deliberate approach might be the right thing. Maybe the Bucs will get a coach who is the right fit. Then, two years down the road or so, maybe fans will say “wow’’ at what that guy has done.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- As the Carolina Panthers were preparing to make Cam Newton the No. 1 overall pick in the draft, we talked several times about how the climate in the offices of Bank of America Stadium was changing.

Heck, the Panthers gave a pretty good indication of that before the lockout when they signed tight end Jeremy Shockey. Newton and Shockey would have been the kind of players the old Panthers wouldn’t have gone near.

Newton’s a quarterback and former coach John Fox didn’t believe in drafting quarterbacks early because he thought they took too long to develop. Even with Fox out of the equation, there were reports about possible background issues for Newton, and the Panthers generally have stayed away from guys with checkered pasts. The current regime did its homework on Newton’s past and it didn’t stop them from taking him. But, even as a pure football decision, taking Newton didn’t come with any guarantees.

That’s a break from the past, when the Panthers almost always went with the safe or conservative choice. Shockey, who is aging and more than a little flamboyant, also wouldn’t have fit the old profile.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Hogan
Mark Zerof/US PresswireCornerback Brandon Hogan had several off-the-field issues at West Virginia.
But times have changed and the latest evidence of that came in the fourth round when Carolina drafted West Virginia cornerback Brandon Hogan. He’s a guy with a rather-lengthy history of off-field issues and is also coming off major knee surgery.

Back in the old days, there was a running joke between scouts around the league and scouts for the Panthers.

When they’d all get together at the Senior Bowl, combine or college pro days, the topic of some prospect with character issues would often come up. The Carolina scouts would say there was no way they could touch a guy with major issues because owner Jerry Richardson simply wouldn’t allow it.

The other scouts would almost always fire back with something like, “What about Steve Smith?’’ and the Carolina scouts would roll their eyes about the one guy who was the exception to a lot of rules in Carolina.

Now, it sounds as if Smith might be traded as soon as trades are allowed. But that doesn’t mean the topic of character issues will go away with him. More than ever, or at least since the days of Kerry Collins and Rae Carruth, it looks like the Panthers have opened their doors to guys who come with some questions.

Around the NFC South

February, 25, 2011
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Let’s take an afternoon trip through some headlines around the NFC South.

Ira Kaufman, who long ago mastered the art of stirring the pot, grabs onto the speculation about Steve Smith’s future in Carolina and wonders if the receiver could be a fit in Tampa Bay. Kaufman does a good job of hitting the pros and cons of such a trade. I wouldn’t totally rule it out, but I think, even if Smith is traded, it’s a real long shot the Panthers would send him to someone within the NFC South.

In this radio interview, Carolina quarterback Jimmy Clausen reflected on his rough rookie year. Hey, at least it looks like Clausen learned one thing from former coach John Fox. The quarterback did a fine job of not really saying much.

Speaking of Carolina and quarterbacks, Mel Kiper’s got rankings on some of the quarterbacks who could be available for trade. Carolina fans, I’d pay close attention to this one because I think your next quarterback comes from a trade or free agency, not the draft.

General manager Mark Dominik doesn’t like it when people say the Buccaneers took shortcuts on character issues last year to get receiver Mike Williams and running back LeGarrette Blount. I think he’s got a point. If the Bucs were taking shortcuts on character, they wouldn’t have done so much homework and they would have drafted Williams long before the fourth round and would have taken Blount so that he didn’t have to enter the league as an undrafted free agent. If you get a guy who has some stuff in his background and he produces on the field and behaves off it, you’ve done your job well. If Williams and Blount start causing problems, then the Bucs are open to criticism.

D. Orlando Ledbetter writes the Falcons are showing interest in Fort Valley State wide receiver Ricardo Lockette. I usually caution not to read too much into who teams interview at the Senior Bowl and combine and bring in for private visits because every team does homework on a lot of guys. But it light of general manager Thomas Dimitroff’s comments about the Falcons needing to be more explosive, I think this one could have some legs. Lockette’s got legs. He’s one of the fastest players in this draft.

Around the NFC South

January, 26, 2011
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Time for a Wednesday afternoon look at what's going on across the NFC South.

Carolina college scouting director Don Gregory, who isn’t in the public eye often, answered some questions from Joseph Person at the Senior Bowl. The most interesting thing might be the fact Gregory said the Panthers are using their time in Mobile, Ala. To gather background information on Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley, who is not participating in the game because he is not a college senior. But Fairley grew up Mobile and the Panthers are talking to some people close to him.

Here’s a detailed look at the second phase of the overhaul of the Superdome, which is taking place now.

Tampa Bay general manager Mark Dominik talked at length to reporters at the Senior Bowl. No huge news, but Dominik covered a lot of ground. The two highlights were him talking about the importance of getting the right guy when the team hires a new defensive line coach and about the possibility of re-signing some potential free agents before a possible March lockout. The defensive line coach is hugely important because he’ll have to continue to develop tackles Gerald McCoy and Brian Price in their second year. Although Dominik says he’ll stay in touch with the agents for potential free agents in the coming weeks, I wouldn’t expect many deals by Tampa Bay or teams around the league. Most teams want to wait until there is a new labor deal in place before doing any big contracts.

Carolina team president Danny Morrison sent out a letter to season-ticket holders. It had a pretty optimistic tone about the arrival of new coach Ron Rivera and the Panthers holding the top pick in this year’s draft. But Morrison echoed the previous comments of owner Jerry Richardson and said there has not been a lot of progress in talks toward a new labor deal. You can take that part how you want. Richardson is leading the owners in this talk and the repeated words about a lack of progress could be a way of preparing fans for tough times. Or you could view it as Richardson negotiating and trying to put the pressure on the players and their union.
Since Washington’s Jake Locker is widely considered the top quarterback prospect at the Senior Bowl and the Carolina Panthers are in the market for a quarterback and have the first pick in 2011 draft, you would think the two sides already are getting to know each other.

Well, it hasn’t come to that point – at least not yet. Locker just met with reporters a little bit ago. I have a friend at the Senior Bowl who covers one of the other NFC South teams and asked him to ask Locker if he had interviewed with the Panthers yet.

Locker’s response was that he had not met with the Panthers and, at least at the moment, no interview was scheduled.

I wouldn’t go reading too much into this right now. New Carolina coach Ron Rivera didn’t arrive at the Senior Bowl until Tuesday and practices started Monday. Rivera still is putting his coaching staff together and getting acclimated.

Sure, a lot of teams interview a lot of players at the Senior Bowl. But the Panthers might be waiting for the combine to interview Locker. They also could bring him in for a private visit before the draft. My guess is they’ll sit down with Locker at a later time.

The Panthers have been out in full force at Senior Bowl practices and it’s safe to assume they’re watching every move Locker makes. If he shows some signs, he could be the franchise quarterback they’re looking for, the Panthers then will make an effort to get to know Locker.

Could Panthers go with CB at No. 1?

January, 26, 2011
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Conventional wisdom is that the Carolina Panthers will take a quarterback, defensive end or defensive tackle with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2011 draft.

Since it is January, none of the NFC South teams are in the Super Bowl and we have no idea how the league’s labor situation will play out, let’s play around a bit with conventional wisdom and have some fun.

[+] EnlargePeterson
Derick E. Hingle/US PresswirePatrick Peterson is projected to be the first cornerback taken in April's draft.
LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson was scheduled to meet with the Panthers at the Senior Bowl on Tuesday. For perspective, let’s remember that virtually all draft prospects meet with virtually every team at the Senior Bowl or combine and some get invited to private interviews as the draft gets closer. For more perspective, Peterson also is scheduled to meet with the New Orleans Saints, who hold the 24th overall pick, at some point this week.

Now, let’s veer away from perspective a bit and ask the thought-provoking question: Could Peterson be the No. 1 choice in the draft? It’s at least possible.

Peterson is a very good cornerback and a lot of draft experts currently have him rated among the top 10 overall players, with some ranking him in the top five. It’s pretty much universally accepted that Peterson will be the top cornerback taken. But teams often frown on using the No. 1 overall pick on a cornerback.

Would the Panthers fall into that category? Maybe and maybe not.

Quarterback is their biggest need, but it remains to be seen if Carolina will deem Missouri’s Blaine Gabbert or any other quarterback worthy of the top pick.

Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley would seem to be the safe choice. He plays a position where the Panthers have a need and most experts have him rated either at the top or very close to it. Then, there is Clemson defensive end Da’Quan Bowers. Opinions on him are similar to those of Fairley. Defensive end isn’t as great a need for the Panthers after the emergence of Charles Johnson this season, but Bowers still would have to be a consideration.

But cornerback also could be a need position for the Panthers. They’ve got some decisions to make on Chris Gamble and Richard Marshall. Gamble has a big contract, but fell into the doghouse of former coach John Fox last season. It’s not known yet how new coach Ron Rivera feels about Gamble. What is certain is Marshall didn’t endear himself to the front office by seeking a big contract extension before last season. There haven’t been any changes in the front office, so it’s unlikely the feelings toward Marshall have changed.

That means the Panthers could be looking for one or two cornerbacks this offseason. If Peterson impresses throughout the interview process and continues to impress on the field, he could be a consideration for the Panthers at No. 1.
The Carolina Panthers, just like every other team in the NFL, are out in force this week in Mobile, Ala. They’re there to watch Senior Bowl practices and they have coaches, front-office people and scouts watching the quarterbacks closely.

But it’s not very likely the Panthers are seeing anyone worth taking with the first overall pick in the draft at the Senior Bowl. Washington’s Jake Locker is probably the biggest name there and he’s considered a first-round pick by some draft experts, but he would need a huge week at the Senior Bowl and strong showings at the combine and in private workouts to have any shot at being No. 1 overall.

The top quarterbacks in this year’s draft are all coming out of college early and the Panthers will have to wait to see Missouri’s Blaine Gabbert, Auburn’s Cam Newton and Arkanas’ Ryan Mallett in person because only seniors are allowed to participate in the college all-star games. Carolina officials will have to wait until the combine or private workouts to see Gabbert, Newton and Mallett in action.

The other quarterbacks at the Senior Bowl are Iowa’s Ricky Stanzi, Nevada’s Colin Kaepernick, TCU’s Andy Dalton, Alabama’s Greg McElroy and Florida State’s Christian Ponder.

The Panthers also were at the East-West Shrine Game last week. The quarterbacks in that game were Delaware’s Patrick Devlin, Navy’s Ricky Dobbs, Virginia Tech’s Tyrod Taylor, Texas A&M’s Jerrod Johnson, Idaho’s Nathan Enderle and Wisconsin’s Scott Tolzien.

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