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Carolina Panthers

Road trip: Panthers heading out for quarterback pro days


CHARLOTTE — The Panthers have seen most of them throw in a controlled workout setting. They've talked to all of them for a whopping 18 minutes each.

Most importantly, they've seen all the film.

This week, they'll start to actually get to know the quarterbacks in this year's draft class at a deeper level. That's important since they'll take one of them with the first pick in this year's draft, a decision it's impossible to overstate the importance of.

And listening to Panthers general manager Scott Fitterer talk about the road trip he's about to embark on, you can tell how important this week is as the Panthers prep for a series of pro day workouts for the top quarterbacks.

"I mean, besides the obvious, seeing how the ball jumps off their hand," Fitterer began when asked what he looks for in these largely controlled environments. "How they move, how they interact with teammates. Some of it will be meetings the night before; you take them out to dinner the night before.

"Talking to, it could be their equipment guy, could be the head coach, it doesn't matter who it is. What do you think of this person? How does he treat people? Like how did he carry himself every day? Or are there ups and downs? Our scouts know a lot of that. But it's always good to hear that firsthand."

Panthers head coach Frank Reich and Fitterer will lead a sizable contingent on a road trip over the next eight days to check out all the top passers.

They'll leave today for Columbus, Ohio, to see C.J. Stroud at Ohio State Wednesday, followed by a quick turnaround to see Bryce Young at Alabama Thursday. On Friday, they'll head back up to Kentucky to see Will Levis (this is a thorough search, which follows what they did when they were hiring Reich and his staff), before a quick pit stop back in Charlotte.

Reich and Fitterer will take a brief break to go to Phoenix for the league meetings next week, before stopping in Gainesville, Fla., next Thursday on the way home to watch Anthony Richardson.

And who they're taking underscores how important this trip is.

In addition to Reich, offensive coordinator Thomas Brown, senior assistant Jim Caldwell, and quarterbacks coach Josh McCown will be in the traveling party. Fitterer, assistant GM Dan Morgan, and vice president of football administration Samir Suleiman will also be out there (among others).

They're rolling deep this week for a reason, because they know they have to get this one right. You don't trade all the stuff they traded to Chicago to get to the top pick (two firsts, two seconds, and DJ Moore) to not be buttoned up in your research.

Reich referred to "multiple touchpoints" with all four quarterbacks before the draft, and they also plan to bring all four of them in for visits to Charlotte. But this week, they get to see them on their home turf, to watch them in a more controlled environment than the combine, when they're thrown together with strangers (Young didn't throw in Indianapolis; the other three did).

"It's just more like the combine, but it's a little bit better than the combine because they're throwing to all their guys," Reich said. "And it's a little bit more controlled in that way that they can do some things that the guys who are running the workouts know specifically, a few things that you're looking for. You can ask guys to do certain things. Sometimes you get to spend a little time talking to him there."

While they won't spend much time talking about how narrow their wish list for the top pick will be — they're going to see all four for a reason — Fitterer has said on several occasions that you have to have "conviction" about a quarterback to take them this high, and that they feel strongly about several of them.

Reich laughed on Monday when reporters tried to narrow his list for him, saying, "I do believe all four of these guys will make an impact in this league."

But the Panthers have to make one choice, one vitally important choice. So that's why they're road-tripping this week, to dig a little deeper into which one they feel most strongly about.

"We're still going through the process right now," Fitterer said. "I mean, obviously, we have our ideas. You're not going to make a move like that without having that pretty much cemented. But now we're going through the process of talking to the players and really getting to know them. You know them as players, starting back a couple of years from your scout's start, and watching these guys, evaluating them. We had a snapshot at the combine where you get 18 minutes talking to them, but really what we want to do is get to know them, what drives them, who's supporting them, who's in their family.

"So this is an important time to go through this process. But we do feel good about the group up top."

That's why they're packing their bags and heading out on a trip that could change the course of the franchise. That's all.

Here's a look at some of the top quarterbacks in this year's class, including Bryce Young, CJ Stroud, Anthony Richardson, and Will Levis.

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