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Panthers making final preparations for draft


CHARLOTTE - With no one in the way to prevent the pick, some teams selecting No. 1 overall in previous NFL drafts have spilled the beans about who they plan to select.

The Panthers, however, won't be letting the cat out of the bag.

"I don't think anybody turns in their inactives on Friday when they have until an hour-and-a-half before the game. That's where we are," Panthers general manager Marty Hurney said at the team's pre-draft press conference Tuesday, two days before the NFL Draft kicks off.

"We obviously have done a lot of work up to this point and have ideas for throughout the draft on how things might unfold, but you just never know what's going to happen. I think you go up until the time when you have to make your selection."

Hurney, first-year head coach Ron Rivera and director of college scouting Don Gregory discussed the Panthers' plans for the draft in general terms, with nary a name from the pool of eligible players being mentioned.

Positions of need were discussed, like defensive line, the defensive backfield, wide receiver and offensive line. And yes, the quarterback spot, a position that all three agreed is undeniably the most important on the field.

That doesn't necessarily mean, however, that Carolina will use the No. 1 overall pick to select one of the elite quarterbacks that weren't mentioned by name.

"This has turned into a passing league, which also adds to the importance of quality pass rushers and quality cover guys," Rivera said. "You can't overlook that. That also impacts what we're going to do."

All agreed that the Panthers' passing game - which ranked last in the league in 2010 - must somehow be shored up, but no one tipped their hand as to how best to do it.

"We most certainly do have to find the quarterback that's going to lead this team," Rivera said. "Whether that quarterback is on this roster, through free agency or trade or in the draft, we've got to make sure it's a sound pick, and we've got to be reasonable with the amount of time we give him."

The Panthers aren't tipping their hand about the No. 1 pick or any specific strategy for their other seven picks in part because they want to keep all options open. Hurney has a history of draft-day trades, and though draft picks are the only commodities that can be traded during this year's draft, there's always that possibility.

"I would like to think there's not a scenario that we haven't at least gotten in the area of," Hurney said. "What's enjoyable is the unexpected happening and not knowing what's going to happen and being able to adjust to what happens if somebody calls or somebody doesn't call. The unknown is what makes it fun."

What Hurney doesn't find as fun is the weight that making the No. 1 overall pick carries.

"It's not enjoyable. Well, it is and it's not," he said. "You just know the importance of it. Every pick is important, but the first pick definitely brings a sense of urgency as far as getting a player that will impact your football team. That pick and that player is going to get a lot more attention than the other picks that you make in your career."

That's also the case for Rivera, whose first experience with the No. 1 pick also happens to be his first pick with the Panthers.

"It kind of does put a face on the beginning of my career," Rivera said. "Whoever it is, it's someone we're going to believe in. It is difficult because we've tried to answer a lot of questions about a lot of guys. We've done a lot of work and have asked our scouts to do a lot of work and our coaches as well.

"The work we've done here as a group has been probably three- or four-fold what it normally is because of the situation and circumstances. I do think it's been a great process, and I do believe we're going to make a sound pick."

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