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Panthers positioned to "take a shot" at a quarterback

Scott Fitterer

CHARLOTTE — New Panthers head coach Frank Reich stood at a press conference Tuesday and talked a lot about the theory of what he wants to do on offense.

Now, they have to put that into practice.

For all the talk about what they'd love to do in an ideal world, the world is not ideal. They'd like to find an answer at quarterback. They also happen to draft ninth overall, which complicates that search.

But general manager Scott Fitterer said the team had to consider making aggressive moves this offseason if they find themselves with an opportunity to acquire a quarterback.

"I think you've got to have conviction," Fitterer said. "If there are guys in this class that you like, you've got to go up, and go get him. You know, we're in a position now, where we have defense where we have, an offensive line that we built around this for this opportunity. So if you have conviction, go get them.

"If it's not, you don't want to force it. You don't want to take a (quarterback) and pass on a really good player that might set you back. But you can't be afraid to take a shot if you believe that's the guy."

The process of acquiring conviction began Tuesday afternoon for Fitterer when he bolted out of the press conference and got on a plane for Mobile, Ala., to go to Senior Bowl practices. The top quarterback prospects aren't there this year, but having a sense of the entire class will help as he and Reich work together on how to solve the quarterback puzzle.

Next week, they'll begin their free agency meetings, so the process of identifying a quarterback will be ongoing and developing over the next few months. And Fitterer was careful to say Tuesday that they weren't isolating their efforts on college prospects, even though that might be the philosophical preference.

"I don't think you ever want to box yourself and just say, 'Hey, we're going to strictly draft,'" Fitterer said. "I've always said, 'Hey, that's the proper way to do it,' to draft and develop from a cost-effectiveness standpoint. But if we don't believe that guy is there this year, and we haven't even started the process, we'll look at all options.

"But in an ideal world, we would be draft and develop."

The existing defense and last offseason's work to stabilize the offensive line was critical to being in that kind of spot to drop a quarterback into a more beneficial place. And having Reich with his background as a quarterback and a quarterbacks coach will be helpful in that regard.

He's still sorting through staffing options, and his coordinator will obviously have some input on what they do next. But a lot of the direction will come from Reich, who still doesn't know if he's going to be calling the offensive plays yet (again, the identity of the coordinator will determine that).

But as he mentioned learning in Indianapolis (when he had five different Week 1 starting quarterbacks in five seasons), it's one thing to have a plan, but adapting to a constantly changing landscape is part of the reality of the position.

"You've got to have stability at quarterback; you want to have stability at quarterback," Reich said. "So the good thing that I've learned in my past experience here in the past experience in the few years is we've learned how to adapt to different styles of quarterbacks. But that's not the ideal situation, right?

"So we have to commit to, what's our blueprint? How are we going to maintain stability at quarterback? Make a plan, and then execute that plan."

Reich talked a lot about his principles of offense and how he wanted to continue to be able to run, and to get passing yards in chunks. Vertical passing is a concept as much as a particular play call, and he said he's drawn from things he was able to do with Carson Wentz in Philadelphia (when he was offensive coordinator) and Indianapolis that helped him see more ways to utilize the position.

"So ultimately, we can adapt to whatever, but where the game is going, and most of the guys coming out in college have more movement," Reich said. "That has some advantages. The defensive players will tell you when that quarterback is back there, and he is a threat to run. You watch Jalen Hurts and Eagles. And, of course, if a quarterback's running his own read and he's a threat to run, it just puts the defense in conflict."

But right now, the Panthers can't be sure what their next quarterback is going to look like or play like, whether he's older or younger or slow or fast. They have some preferences, but they also know it's not all up to them.

"You want to be able to understand who you're drafting, or understand who you're acquiring, continue to develop them as a player," Reich said. "We can all get better. I can be better as a coach, and they can become better as a player, whether we're signing a guy or drafting a guy.

"But ultimately, that's the challenge. And that's the excitement of it."

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