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Former QB knows finding answer at position is key to GM job


CHARLOTTE – Scott Fitterer can't help himself.

He's a former quarterback. He thinks like one. The players he admires are quarterbacks. It's his lens on the game.

"I wish I was a better quarterback," Fitterer joked Thursday. "I might think like one, but I didn't play like one all the time."

Now, all he has to do is find one, or at least find out if the one he has can do the job.

The new Panthers' general manager wasn't going to get into specifics about Teddy Bridgewater or any other quarterback — on or off his current roster — in his first interview. And because no position on his new roster is a finished product, Fitterer left the status of the incumbent starting quarterback open, just like head coach Matt Rhule did at the end of the season.

"We have talent at that position. Teddy had a lot of good flashes this year, but what I think we really need is to have a good offseason," Fitterer said. "We need consistency out of the position.

"We're going to look at all different avenues to improve, not just at quarterback, but the team at every position."

That's mostly what a new GM has to say when he inherits a player he did not sign, so it's not surprising that Fitterer chose that path. But it's also not anything he could declare today even if he wanted to.

The Panthers have the eighth overall pick in a draft heavy on top prospects at the position.

"We're going to look at the draft, we're going to look at the waiver wire, we're going to look through trades, we're going to look at free agency — not just at quarterback but any position that could upgrade our team," Fitterer said. "And we're going to be very aggressive in our approach."

Of course, things in Fitterer's background and his last job also point to what he values at quarterback.

A three-sport athlete in high school, Fitterer began his college career by focusing on football at UCLA.

He grew up a Brett Favre fan, and seeing Packers quarterbacks and his former QB in Seattle shaped his opinion. Asked if he could name a guy who exemplified what he wanted in a Scott Fitterer player, he rattled off a laundry list of qualifications.

"Sure, there's a great example in Seattle in Russell Wilson, just an ultimate competitor and winner," he said. "Someone that's so resilient, didn't matter what point in the game it was, he always gave you a chance, and you felt that. The team walked into the huddle, and you felt that.

"You can look at Green Bay. I always loved Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers. Aaron's mastery of the position, his intelligence, he's an underrated athlete, his accuracy, his processing, all that stuff is off the charts. And I love the competitor Brett Favre was. He's got that big rocket arm, he was tough, he was mobile, and he gave you everything he had.

"So if you can find somebody in that mix of players. Really, at the quarterback position, you want somebody who can process and compete."

Wilson was that guy in Seattle, and having him on a cheap rookie deal helped the Seahawks build a team around a young quarterback that reached the Super Bowl his second season.

That shaped Fitterer's thinking about the position as it pertains to roster construction, but again, he's too early in his new job to allow it to be dogma.

"The problem is finding a good young rookie and having the chance to put him on the field and compete," Fitterer said. "There really are benefits of that, but we're not stuck on the rookie quarterback. We're going to look at every position and every avenue for acquisition."

Fitterer also addressed a number of other topics in his first interview since taking the job. But he's also smart enough to know he's going to get asked about quarterbacks. A lot.

Q: In interviewing you for the job, did David Tepper make adding a quarterback seem to be a priority?

Fitterer: "I think that's a priority in every owner's mind, every coach's mind, every GM's mind. We're never satisfied. Even if you have Russell Wilson, or whoever it is, you're always looking. Always evaluating quarterbacks and what's next. It's the most important position on the field. . . .

"I'm going to sit down with Coach (Matt) Rhule. We're going to come up with a plan. We want to elevate every position on the team. It's going take planning, and it's something we're going to work through moving forward."

Q: How familiar are you with the roster as it stands?

Fitterer: "It's a 30,000-foot view. You know everything on tape. Now I'm trying to learn about the players, who they are, the type of workers they are — starting to dig into that part of it now.

"This all happened so quick, you have a quick study of what the team is. Now I have to really evaluate, not just the front line players, but the depth of players. I need to know who's here. We're going to be very active in terms of churning this roster, especially on the back end and bringing the right mix of players. In order for me to do that, I need to know who's here first, and who's a fit."

Q: What particular parts of the roster jump out at you at first glance?

Fitterer: "I think when you look at it, there's a lot of really good young talent. A lot of explosive players at receiver and running back. (Jeremy) Chinn, Derrick (Brown), (Brian) Burns, Donte (Jackson). I think the way I want to build the team is one, obviously quarterback, and two, both sides of the line. Really, settling the offensive line, maybe getting another corner, just creating competition at those spots is kind of the view right now."

Q: How daunting it is to know how unsettled the offensive line is (with four starters hitting free agency, including right tackle Taylor Moton)?

Fitterer: "That's something I want to sit down with Matt and talk about. We do have a plan, roughly, but we need to get on the same page. There's some good pieces. There are a lot of questions right now, but it's a priority for us."

Q: With uncertainty about the salary cap limitations (which is currently at $175 million but could rise), how do you approach planning for free agency?

Fitterer: "I think you plan on the low end. We're going to plan for 175, and if it's higher than that, we'll adjust, and that's good for us. We'll plan at 175, and then go through the roster and look at the pieces. Who needs to be here and how does this fit and then some decisions we have to make that will be tough. It's not just the Panthers, it's league-wide. A lot of people need to get down to a certain level. In doing that, there will be a lot of good players around the NFL (becoming available)."

Q: How much have you talked about the front office structure and whether you need to add layers to the personnel department?

Fitterer: "I think the first thing I need to do is evaluate who's here, and where we need help. The key is, it's not going to be about the size. It's going to be the quality of the people. No ego, work ethic, being efficient in our process.

"Until I get in here and figure out who's in here and how we're going to do it, then we'll decide from there."

Q: Has it dawned on you yet how quickly this came together, and how a lifelong West Coast guy is now a Charlottean?

Fitterer: "One, I had the support of the family, which made it easier. Had they been reluctant or caught off guard, it would have been tougher. I had a couple of previous interviews. They were aware something could happen at some point in the future.

"From Sunday to Thursday, you interview a couple of times, a lot of phone calls, and I take the job Thursday night.

"But just the speed at which this happened, it was pretty remarkable."

View photos of Fitterer from his first day at Bank of America Stadium.

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