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Panthers fill needs on final day of draft

Posted Apr 30, 2011

CHARLOTTE - The Carolina Panthers targeted specific positions of need heading into the final day of the NFL Draft, but along the way they also sought a quality that their roster needed regardless of the positions picked.

"We wanted to become a physical, attacking team," first-year head coach Ron Rivera said. "I think it starts with being able to be physical."

The Panthers followed the selection of a physical quarterback and a pair of physical defensive tackles over the first two days of the draft by scooping up five more physical specimens Saturday. The targeting of aggressive players even included the team's choice at wide receiver in the form of Kealoha Pilares, a converted running back who is fearless over the middle.

The Panthers kicked off the day with the selection of aggressive cornerback Brandon Hogan to open the fourth round, then added Pilares in the fifth before closing with hard-hitting linebacker Lawrence Wilson and a pair of hard-charging offensive linemen in Zack Williams and Lee Ziemba.

"We followed our board, and I think we had enough areas to address that there was always somebody there to address them," general manager Marty Hurney said. "In some cases, we were holding our breath that players got there, but never was it a case where we dipped lower. It broke down to where we had needs and players there to address them. It matched up."

Here's a detailed look at the players the Panthers drafted in rounds four through seven Saturday.

Round 4 (No. 98 overall): CB BRANDON HOGAN, West Virginia

Brandon Hogan has a deep understanding of what it takes to succeed at cornerback.

Now Hogan just has to work on getting healthy enough to contribute at cornerback for the Panthers, who kicked off the final day of the NFL Draft on Saturday by selecting him with the first pick of the fourth round.

Hogan, a 5-10, 192-pounder, tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in West Virginia's regular season finale. While his recovery is going well, he said he might not be able to run at full speed until August.

"My knee is ahead of schedule," Hogan said. "I started running this month, just getting stronger and getting back used to doing things. I'm taking it slowly and listening to the doctors."

When at full speed, Hogan was a handful for opposing offenses. He started 33 games in the defensive backfield over his final three seasons, picking off seven passes and racking up 171 tackles. As a freshman, he played wide receiver after playing quarterback at Osbourn High School in Manassas, Va.

"I've been playing football my whole life, and I'm willing to play anywhere. I just love playing the sport," Hogan said. "Being around a couple of different great coaches on the offensive side of the ball taught me some things. I understand the mindset of the receiver, and playing quarterback in high school helped as well. I think that really helped my game."

Hurney on Hogan: "He's a very good player, a very, very good corner. His skill level is high. … Football is very important to him."


Round 5 (No. 132 overall): WR KEALOHA PILARES, Hawaii

Kealoha Pilares said that some people can't believe how fast he's recovered from a knee injury suffered in Hawaii's bowl game.

Fast, indeed.

Earlier this month, a little more than three months removed from a sprain of his posterior cruciate ligament, Pilares ran a blazing 4.41 at his pro day.

"A lot of people are surprised by how fast I've healed and come back from it," said Pilares, who certainly caught the attention of the Panthers with his speed and his toughness. "To be picked up by Carolina is a blessing. I'm just looking forward to going out there and competing, showing what I've got."

In addition to his 40 time, Pilares put up other eye-popping numbers in Hawaii's wide-open offense. He finished his career with 209 catches for 2,491 yards and 22 touchdowns, including a senior season in which he snagged 88 passes for 1,306 yards and 15 touchdowns.

Not bad given he played running back his first two years at Hawaii before moving to the slot.

"I was recruited to Hawaii as a slot, but they had people like (Dolphins receiver) Davone Bess in the slot," Pilares said. "The coaches really wanted to get me on the field, so I played running back, and then I slowly converted to slot."

There's nothing slow about this 5-10, 199-pounder, who patterns his game after Panthers receiver Steve Smith and Patriots receiver Wes Welker in addition to Bess.

"With my run after the catch and my ability to read coverages and make plays out there, I feel like I'm a very smart receiver that catches onto things really fast," he said. "Going across the middle is a part of the game, and it can open up a lot for the offense."

Rivera on Pilares: "When you put the tape on and watch him catch the ball, he explodes and can take shots and break tackles. For an underneath guy with that kind of quickness and ball skills and running skills, he was a big attraction for us."


Round 6 (No. 166 overall): LB LAWRENCE WILSON, Connecticut

Lawrence Wilson couldn't seem to get any notice out of high school, so once in college, he made people take notice.

"Coming out of high school, I didn't really have any scholarship offers - UConn was my only one," Wilson said. "They gave me a great opportunity to get out on the field and showcase my ability early."

Now the Panthers have given him a second chance, selecting him with the first pick of the sixth round. Wilson finished his career at Connecticut with 449 tackles, the fourth most among active Football Bowl Subdivision players.

"Everybody always asked me, ‘Are you holding any grudges toward schools that overlooked you?' I didn't," said Wilson, a first-team All-Big East selection in both 2009 and 2010. "Everything happens for a reason. I just went up there and worked and focused on doing what I could do to help the team win, and everything panned out."

Few schools pursued Wilson out of high school even though he hailed from a football hotbed, starring at Paul W. Bryant High School in Tuscaloosa, Ala. His hometown made news for something other than football this week when tornadoes ravaged the area.

"We made it out pretty good, only a couple of trees down in the front yard," Wilson said. "From what I've seen around the city, some people lost everything – houses were gone, cars were flipped – so we came out pretty good."

Hurney on Wilson: "He's a very athletic linebacker who plays with a high motor. He can run, has good speed. Anytime you're down in that area (of the draft), players who can run and are athletic are players that you look for."


Round 6 (No. 203 overall): OL ZACK WILLIAMS, Washington State

Some websites list Zack Williams as a center, while others list him as a guard.

Williams doesn't view that as an inconsistency; he views it as his ticket into the NFL.

"Playing two spots definitely helped me out a lot in the draft," said Williams, picked by the Panthers with their sixth-round compensatory pick. "I can bounce back from left guard to right guard and center – that's three spots that I can play. I'm looking forward to helping out anywhere that I can."

Williams, a two-year starter at Washington State, said he thought he was most likely to start out at guard, where he played as a junior. He actually has more experience at center, where he started all 12 games last season and where he played for two years at Glendale Community College in his native California.

"I really love playing guard. I like pulling and getting out into space, but I also like playing center with the responsibilities there," Williams said. "Both positions are fun to play."

Williams said most of his contact with Carolina's coaches so far has been with assistant offensive line coach Ray Brown, who wasn't even a Panthers coach when the two first spent time together. Brown coached and Williams played in the East-West Shrine Game three days before the Panthers officially hired Brown.

Rivera on Williams: "Zack Williams is a guy who plays with a chip on his shoulder. He's got something to prove. We want to bring some physical play, and both those guys (along with Lee Ziemba) will do that for us."


Round 7 (No. 244 overall): OT LEE ZIEMBA, Auburn

Lee Ziemba spent the final day of the draft playing golf, believing that when he carded a personal-best 83 and then began to drive home that the draft had ended without him being selected.

That's when the phone rang.

"I thought the draft was over, and then Coach Rivera called me. I couldn't believe it," Ziemba said. "It's been a long waiting game, but that surprising phone call really changed my perspective on things."

Ziemba said he had heard rumors that he could be picked as early as the second round, and that didn't seem to be a stretch given his credentials. The 6-6, 317-pounder started at tackle for Auburn in his first game as a true freshman, the start of a 52-game streak that set a school record and that ended with a national title for the first-team All-American.

He took the long wait in stride, however, and now he hopes to show that he can block even better than he can save par.

"I'm really thankful for the opportunity that Coach Rivera and the Panthers organization has given me," Ziemba said. "I'm going to work my tail off to be the best offensive tackle in the nation. That's my goal.

"I feel like I've got the tools and the work ethic, and I'm going to go in there and work to be the best I can be."

Hurney on Ziemba: "He's a warrior. He's a very physical, high-motor tackle who plays with a mean streak. He brings a toughness to you."