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Notebook: GM Scott Fitterer sees "change in culture"

Scott Fitterer

INDIANAPOLIS — The Panthers have gotten credit for assembling a high-end coaching staff, but general manager Scott Fitterer said Wednesday at the scouting combine that work has extended to the rest of the building.

Fitterer said the other new staffers they've brought in show a commitment to building a stronger organization by owners Dave and Nicole Tepper, and he can already see it.

"Not only have we added good coaches, we've started that change in culture," Fitterer said. "And that's kind of been the biggest thing. Really, what started that was David Tepper came to us and said, hey, listen, I want the best. I'm not going to play for .500 football; we want to win championships here. We want to sustain this. And he said, basically, he would give us the resources. He said, just bring me the best. And he's backed that up. You know, Dave and Nicole were involved in the process, but they've gone out, and they've backed up what they said, and we've gone out and got what I feel like one of the best coaching staffs in the NFL. It's a big credit to Dave and Nicole. . . . So it's been fun."

Fitterer also mentioned the addition of their new vice president of player engagement Kevin Winston (who spent 17 years with the Falcons), and vice president of development Brian Decker (the former Green Beret who has already started helping with evaluations and developing coaches) as examples of that commitment.

But as head coach Frank Reich did by hiring a staff with a wide range of perspectives, Fitterer said the team has become more collaborative through this offseason, leaning on a key group of individuals through the coaching search and beyond. Some of those are new hires (including new vice president of player personnel Adrian Wilson), but he also knows he has some known voices he has experience with. He mentioned assistant general manager Dan Morgan and vice president of football administration Samir Suleiman as examples of people he can trust.

"Dan's probably my best friend, the guy that I spend every day with whether it's workdays or at our house, he's the guy that I can ask any question, and I know I'm getting an honest answer," Fitterer said. "I mean, the guy cannot lie. Even if you want him to a little bit, there's no sugarcoating it. And I really respect that about him. And he's really good at what he does. He's extremely valuable. And Samir's the guy, like the brutal honesty. It may come down to doing a contract, and he's like, hey, listen, that's not the value that I see for it. I think we should take this route.

"There might be times where I challenge him, or he challenges me, or maybe Dave challenges both of us. But I think it's a really good combination. We work well together, we offset each other. We had different personalities, different styles, but it seems to work for us."

— While most of the talk on Wednesday from Reich and Fitterer was about the quarterback position, Fitterer ran through what he considered other needs as they prepare to enter free agency in two weeks.

He began the list by saying, "obviously tight end," and mentioned the need for another receiver. On defense, he mentioned "speed at linebacker" and possibly some more depth at safety since Jeremy Chinn could have a hybrid role. They have a trustworthy safety in Xavier Woods, but if Chinn is closer to the line of scrimmage, they'd like to add there.

"Obviously, the quarterback's the biggest thing that we need to fix long-term, and we'll figure out who that is," he added.

— Speaking of linebackers, Fitterer said they'd had preliminary discussions this week with the agent for veteran Shaq Thompson, and that he wants to talk to Thompson in person next week. Thompson is under contract, but his cap number is over $24 million and would likely need to be adjusted in some way.

He's still a productive player, and defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero singled him out last week as a player he'd love to coach. But Thompson himself alluded to the business realities at the end of the season, and Fitterer said that conversation was coming.

"I want to sit down with him," Fitterer said. "That's something I want to talk to him about in person. Probably early next week. I think it's too early to say at this point. I mean, that's why we talk to the agent; there's a lot of ways to look at it. We need to sit down with our coaching staff and figure out how are they going to use him. What's that value to us? We're starting to figure that out. Obviously, the number's high right now. But we're figuring it out. I don't want to talk about his contract in detail. But conversations still need to be had."

– Reich said agreeing to a new contract with center Bradley Bozeman is a "priority" heading into next season.

Bozeman came into the starting lineup in Week 7 last year and remained an anchor on the Panthers' offensive line down the stretch. With guards Brady Christensen and Austin Corbett rehabbing injuries as they head into the 2023 season, keeping Bozeman would appear to be a top priority to maintain stability inside.

Bozeman has also said he and his family would like to remain in Charlotte.

"You can't have everything you want, but I see him as a leader on our offense," Reich said. "Obviously, I don't know him. I just got here. But watching him on film, and understanding who he is as a person, you hope that works out."

Fitterer said the Panthers are "working on" getting an agreement in place with Bozeman. He also called running back D'Onta Foreman "one of the priority guys."

Foreman paced Carolina's run game improvement following the Christian McCaffrey trade, tallying 914 yards on 203 attempts in his first year as a Panther. Foreman also expressed his interest in staying at Carolina after the season.

"We'd like to get a deal done with him," Fitterer said. "We'll see how it goes. We just don't know – it's got to fit for him; it's got to fit for us."

– Reich said he has had some communication with Matt Corral, one of only two quarterbacks on the Panthers' roster (along with practice squad member Jacob Eason).

Corral was the Panthers' third-round selection last year, and he didn't see the field as a rookie after a preseason Lisfranc injury sidelined him for the year.

Reich said he wasn't sure of Corral's timetable to return, but he didn't appear confident that he would make it back before the start of OTAs.

"I don't think it's the beginning of OTAs," Reich said. "But I don't know that off the top of my mind."

View photos of head coach Frank Reich and general manager Scott Fitterer from their press conferences and interviews with the media at the Combine on Wednesday.

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