Scouts Honor: Winter Break

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Jeff Morrow is in his 18th season working for the Panthers, Ryan Cowden in his 16th.

But if you're thinking these two guys have seen scores of Panthers' games in person, you'd be wrong. Morrow, the team's national scout/senior college scout, attended his first game of this season last Sunday when the Panthers routed Atlanta, 38-0, at Bank of America Stadium. Cowden was there, too, and that doubled the number of Panthers' games he's attended this season to a total of two.

"You'd think a little bit more, because I only live about an hour and a half from here (in Simpsonville, S.C.)," said Cowden, Carolina's assistant director of college scouting. "But actually, this season, I've only been to one other game of ours. I saw the Redskins' game here at home."

Such is life for college scouts employed by an NFL team. When it's football season, there are prospects to be seen and evaluated from coast to coast, especially from August to December when the college football season is in full swing.

Cowden and Morrow, who lives in Louisville, Ky., were in town along with the rest of the Panthers' college scouting staff last week for a series of meetings that began with the three days leading up to last Sunday's Atlanta game, then a brief wrap-up meeting last Monday. It was the first time they'd been together since early in training camp at Wofford College back in August – and as soon as last Monday's final meeting was concluded, they scattered again to all points where prospects await to be graded.

The next NFL draft remains months away, but these December meetings held by the scouts, which also include General Manager Dave Gettleman and others in the front office, are incredibly important when it comes to mapping out the future of the franchise.

In addition to Don Gregory, who is director of college scouting, Cowden and Morrow, the Panthers also employ area scouts Khary Darlington, John Peterson and Mike Szabo, Combine scout Robert Haines and BLESTO scout Eli Montague.  They are all used to life on the road, which Morrow said for him adds up to "170 to 185 nights" per year away from home. All of the scouts are on the road for much of August through December, then again when they travel to bowl games and/or all-star games in January, at Indianapolis for the NFL Combine in February and at various Pro Days at schools where prospects are worked out individually from late February through March.

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"Regardless of what your title says, it's all the same for all of us who are involved. The travel? For me, I guess it's just safe to say a lot without counting up the nights," said Cowden, who oversees the Southeast and Northeast areas. "It kind of just becomes part of your routine. You accept that's what it is from August to December, that's what it is and that's what it takes to get done what we need to get done.

"The typical week for me is just like everybody else, depending on if I'm coming off a weekend at home – which is rare – or if you're already out. It's the same deal. Get to your first school early, spend time there on a Monday and work all the way through to the next weekend."

That grind is what makes the December meetings a welcome respite, although most of the scouting staff lives elsewhere so nights in Charlotte are on the road for them, too. But at least they're in one place for a bit of a stretch, they're together again as a staff, and they know what work needs to be accomplished to take the next steps in preparing for a successful draft.

"When I was an area guy, I liked these meetings because it gave me a perspective of what else is out there," said Morrow, who oversees pretty much all territory from Ohio to the West Coast. "The area guys get so locked in on their particular schools that that's all you see. I may think I've got a really good player, but when I see the rest of the country my really good player may be sixth.

"So coming from there, now in my current position, I'm more coming in over from the top and seeing how everyone else is evaluating players in my area – and Ryan does the same thing – how they grade, what they're looking at. So I can get a feel for it when I see their grades. I can say, OK, he really likes this or he really doesn't like this, based on the numerical grade they give.

"The second part of that is it just ties up loose ends. If you saw a guy at this level and I saw a guy at another level, well, then we really need to get more eyes on that guy to figure out who he really is. If we're close, obviously that's a plus.'

Morrow said the December meetings also are necessary to set the schedules for all the scouts heading into the upcoming bowls and all-star games.

"We'll set who's going where for those games," Morrow said. "Everybody in that room will start gearing toward knowing what we need, our weaknesses we need to fill in the draft if everything else is equal -- whether it's a linebacker or a defensive end or defensive tackle. So that when we go to the bowl games, the other guys can say, 'Well, I know in our meetings, we all kind of liked John Doe, so I'm going to make sure I take a peek at him, too.' "

Cowden said the December meetings also are the beginning of putting all the information that the scouts have spent months gathering into some kind of workable order.

"So to this point, we've got about 1,200 players that we've evaluated – combining all the areas," Cowden said. "So those 1,200, right now they're all in a big batch, so to speak. Part of what we will do in these meetings will be to clean out some guys and put 'em in different buckets, OK? Nothing specific at this point – but you put them in buckets where you say, OK, this group is draftable, this group is kind of in the free-agent kind of land. And this will constantly be tweaked, but this is sort of the first time we start putting them in those buckets.

"Your grading system in the fall does that. But a lot of times you might grade a guy up a little bit to talk about him more, maybe get another set of eyes on him. This also will be the first introduction for Dave (Gettleman) to speak with us and his first time hearing our thoughts on the players for the 2016 draft."

There is one other purpose to the December meetings of the minds for the scouting staff. Cowden said sometimes the scouts spend so much time alone on the road that they feel "maybe like independent contractors" who aren't part of what's transpiring each Sunday on the field for the team that employs them.

"We try to tie these meetings in with a home game," Cowden said. "That way they're able to have the wives fly in and everybody is able to feel connected to what we're doing."

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