MOBILE, Ala. — The Panthers' coaching staff gets two hours a day to run practice at the Senior Bowl, and they have another two hours of meetings a day with the American team.
There are a few other chances to get to know some of the college all-stars assembled in Alabama this week, but head coach Matt Rhule is using every second he can to evaluate.
Even time in elevators.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic is still impacting every facet of the scouting process, limiting face-to-face time with prospects, Rhule said that even chance encounters would all be filed away.
"There was a player last year, and I won't say who, but was supposed to be drafted pretty highly," Rhule said Tuesday. "And I got in the elevator with him at the Combine, and I was like, by the end of that elevator ride, I was like, 'There's no way that guy will be a fit with us.'"
Those short interactions will be key this year when every team will have less personal contact with college players than ever before. With the Scouting Combine replaced by workouts at pro days, the opportunities for conversations will be limited.
That impacts every team, making the Panthers' brief window into this group more valuable.
"This would be a year when everyone across the NFL knows less about players than any other year," Rhule said.
Of course, whether a guy is good at football remains the most important part of the evaluation, but Rhule said getting to know this group of players was an "invaluable" part of the process.
"We think we know these guys, and our scouts do a great job," Rhule said. "But that's only information from a third party. This is a chance for players to speak for themselves and say, 'This is who I am. This is what my makeup is.' Coaching them, being in meetings, just being in an elevator with them, you get a sense for the guys.
"We're looking to find who's tough, hard-working, and competitive, who's smart, who loves the game. And who's a good person. We spend six months a year together, so we want to be around people that we like and fit us."
GETTING TO KNOW YOU
Rhule joked last week about having midnight meetings with new general manager Scott Fitterer just to find out more about his newest co-worker.
The two huddled for a few moments on the sidelines Tuesday, and they're grabbing time as they can throughout the process.
But that extends to the entire scouting department, as Rhule said he hadn't seen guys like Jeff Beathard since last year's Combine.
Catching up with those guys is vital since they're evaluating for Rhule and the staff's preferences, so being on the same page is obviously important.
HAND SIZE SEASON
One of the more peculiar quirks of the NFL scouting process is the way teams scrutinize every measurement possible, sometimes to ridiculous extremes.
And for quarterbacks, hand size — measured from thumb to pinkie across the palm — has become one of the process's hallmarks.
To make a long story short, bigger hands allow a quarterback to grip the ball more firmly and ostensibly to throw it with more accuracy in cold and windy conditions. It's not a perfect correlation, but little hands can be a disqualifier. Anything under 9 inches is a concern, especially if the quarterback in question also smells like cabbage.
Among the American team quarterbacks the Panthers have this week, Wake Forest's Jamie Newman has 10-inch hands, Alabama's Mac Jones has 9 3/4-inch hands, and Texas A&M's Kellen Mond checked in at 9 1/4.
On the National team roster, coached by the Dolphins, Arkansas' Feleipe Franks measured in at 10 inches, followed by Notre Dame's Ian Book (9 7/8), and Texas' Sam Ehlinger (9 3/4).
View photos from the American team's first practice in Mobile, Ala.