Giving it the old college try(out)

Delano Hill

CHARLOTTE — Delano Hill's Panthers career could last a couple more hours.

Or it could lead to something more.

For the one veteran appearing at the Panthers rookie minicamp on a tryout basis, this weekend came with no promises or expectations. It only offered him the one thing he was asking for — a chance to compete.

The former Seahawks safety (who goes by Lano) has four years in the league, 42 games played, and some background with Panthers general manager Scott Fitterer.

What he doesn't have is job security, as this weekend was his opportunity to show them he deserves a place on the 90-man roster. But he also has enough experience in the NFL to know that these things can be fleeting.

"No, I get it; I only played in two games last year," Hill replied when asked if he felt odd among the drafted and undrafted rookies. "It feels regular to me. We're all in here learning together, and trying to prove we belong.

"I don't look at myself any differently than these other guys."

He is a little different, though, having made plays in the league in the past.

Last year, he was the guy who spoiled Patriots quarterback Cam Newton's attempt at a game-deciding touchdown on Sunday Night Football, helping the Seahawks hold on for a dramatic win.

Newton had scored twice already on similar plays that night, but Hill went underneath fullback Jakob Johnson and was able to undercut one of the most dangerous goal-line players of this generation to seal a win. 

Asked about it this weekend, Hill laughed at the recognition that Newton once made a lot of defensive backs miss here. 

"Yeah, I guess that was a big play for a lot of people, on national TV, a lot of people saw it," he said. "But to me, I don't really think about it as a big play, because I was just doing my job.

"From that standpoint, it doesn't stand out for me. I want that to be just part of what I do."

Asked what would stand out if that play didn't, Hill replied: "That's a good question. I think people's character stands out, how they approach the job, how they treat people.

"I just want to bring my personality to this, play fast and physical, and see if they like it."

Hill's 2020 season was cut short by a back injury, and with a limited body of recent work, there weren't a lot of calls this offseason. So he leaped at this chance to try to impress someone he had already impressed.

Delano Hill

Fitterer was in the Seahawks front office when they drafted Hill in the third round of the 2017 draft, hoping the Michigan safety could add to a pretty good secondary.

At the time, Hill wasn't sure what he was walking into. While this weekend is spent with rookies of varying degrees of promise, he was suddenly teammates with players such as safeties Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor, and cornerback Richard Sherman.

"That was an incredible learning experience for me," Hill said. "When I got there, it was fun for me, because I had seen these guys on TV, and you couldn't help being a little star-struck. But they were cool, and genuine, and wanted to help young guys coming in. There was a real 'each one teach one' thing there, and they definitely did that.

"Having those guys around showed me how to approach the game, and how seriously you have to take it."

He admitted seeing the transition away from the "Legion of Boom" was strange. Chancellor retired after the 2017 season because of a neck injury. Thomas was gone a year later, in dramatic fashion, flipping off coach Pete Carroll as he was carted off with a season-ending leg injury.

Suddenly, Hill was in position for a larger role, only to have the addition of new faces and his own injuries complicate things. That left him waiting for the phone to ring in free agency, and it didn't until after the draft when he got the invitation to show the Panthers what he could offer.

From the Panthers' perspective, having the opportunity at a free look at a rangy safety who has some cover skills and good speed was worth a shot.

Panthers head coach Matt Rhule said that since the league only allowed five tryout players per team this year, they adjusted the way the view the minicamp. Without enough numbers (they only had 34 players here) to run many team drills, they used it as an evaluation tool — almost like a longer version of a pro day, under their supervision.

"We're really able to evaluate them," Rhule said. "The assistant coaches write a report on each guy from the first guy drafted to the last guy signed, we write a report on each guy every night. Strengths and weaknesses in the classroom, strengths and weaknesses on the field. Where they can fit. We try to evaluate each and every guy and compare that against the roster.

"We're looking for guys that have the requisite skills, that are big, fast, strong, and athletic, but are also smart and tough and dependable. I can tell you there are some undrafted guys and tryout guys you can say to yourself, 'Hey, they can help us in some way.' You can see it already. So a lot of guys just needed an opportunity and this is a good opportunity."

That's all Hill ever looked at this weekend as. Without other teams asking him in, he threw himself into three days of practices here, knowing it was his one chance.

"I don't really know what to expect," Hill said of his future. "We're all day-to-day, so we just have to make the most of whatever chance we find."

View photos from Saturday's rookie minicamp practice at the Atrium Health practice fields.

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