CHARLOTTE – Assistant head coach Steve Wilks, who doubles as the Panthers' secondary coach, couldn't wait to get the team's three drafted cornerbacks out on the field for their first practice in Carolina colors.
But while Wilks helped James Bradberry, Daryl Worley and Zack Sanchez start to straighten out the learning curve throughout the team's recent rookie minicamp, he was already up to speed on the corners even before they became Panthers.
"You don't want to buy a car on the internet. You want to be able to test drive it, kick the wheels. That's what we do," Wilks said. "We get to take these young men out to eat dinner and get to know them personally, and we get them on the board to see what they can retain. We get a real true evaluation."
Wilks spent time with all three corners on pre-draft visits to Bank of America Stadium and hit the road for private workouts with Bradberry and Worley, while assistant defensive backs coach Curtis Fuller went to Oklahoma and spent time with Sanchez.
That time together helped seal what Wilks thought he already knew based on film study and the measurables posted by the trio – that they had the qualities Carolina covets in cornerbacks.
"They're smart. They're long. They can run. They're physical. That's what we like about them," Wilks said. "Right now they're just going through the process.
"I think it's going to be an easy transition. They've just got to get up to speed."
While you can't really teach size and speed, now is a critical time for teaching the rookies how to best use their size and speed on the pro level. Wilks believes all three have the mental aptitude to grasp things quickly, and they also have the desire to learn.
"I'm trying to soak up all the knowledge I can," said Bradberry, a second-round pick who was the first of the three corners drafted. "I feel confident in myself. I made sure I knew my assignments and made sure I didn't get yelled at by my coach."
While Bradberry didn't want to put himself in positon where Wilks might voice displeasure, Sanchez welcomed the voice of his position coaches.
"If they're not talking to you, then you have something to worry about," said Sanchez, a fifth-round pick who was the last of the three corners drafted. "It's good to get coaching from them and have them help me see things to make the game easier for me."
Worley, the Panthers' third-round selection, said he's been pleased with how similar Carolina's scheme is to what he played at West Virginia. But there's still plenty to learn, as he was reminded when he began tackling the task of using the Panthers' playbook verbiage instead of what he knew in college.
"You always have to get adjusted," Worley said. "But everyone makes you want to work harder – from Steve Wilks to the vets."
The number of vets in the meeting room went down by one when the Panthers recently parted ways with Brandon Boykin. That leaves Bene Benwikere, who is rehabbing from a broken leg, as the only corner on the roster to have played more than one full season with the Panthers.
But the room still has lots of veteran savvy in the form of Wilks, who is excited about this young, hungry group and about taking the next step with them when organized team activities kick off next week.
"I think we targeted the right guys, and we got the guys that we wanted," Wilks said. "They're learning. They're picking things up very quickly, which is great.