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Combine notebook: Morgan on long-range plan, Canales on learning new roster

Dave Canales, Dan Morgan

INDIANAPOLIS — Panthers President of Football Operations/General Manager Dan Morgan spent a lot of time on Tuesday talking about moves that could happen in the coming hours, days, or weeks. 

But he made it clear while at the scouting combine that he's taking a longer view of the job ahead of him.

"I think our whole scouting staff, not just myself, have a really good feel of what we want, and we're going to be able to go out and attack that," Morgan said. "I always think it's a two-to-three-year plan. We're always looking ahead, always trying to, you know, look at future free agent classes, draft classes just to kind of see maybe where we're weak and where we can add in this year and supplement this year, just to plan for the future."

It's not that every GM doesn't want to prepare that way, but it's a point of emphasis for Morgan coming out of a 2-15 season. The Panthers have behaved aggressively in the past (and it's not that Morgan is planning on sitting out the offseason because he doesn't have a first-round pick), and Morgan wants to apply a different lens to all football topics. 

He mentioned the work of new Executive Vice President of football operations Brandt Tills, who is in charge of the salary cap and contract negotiations, as an important part of that. Tilis comes from Kansas City, where they've remained consistently excellent after paying Patrick Mahomes a gigantic contract, and Morgan said Tilis was already taking a look at the way they operate, from structures of deals to the way they restructure to save cap room when needed.

"I think we're going to be a little smarter when it comes to the restructuring," Morgan said. "We're going do things the right way, not kind of kick the can down the road. We want to evenly distribute and pay year-to-year as opposed to kicking the can down the road. So that's why Brandt's here. Brandt is doing a really good job, and I'm excited for our future."

— As he's learning his new team, Panthers head coach Dave Canales is able to have a fresh perspective on his new roster since he hasn't gotten to know most of them yet (the offseason program won't begin until April). 

But he has been studying and has watched every game of the 2023 season to learn more about his team and what he has to work with.

That's a common tactic of new coaches (John Fox famously watched the last month of the 1-15 2001 season to see which players quit), and Canales said it was an important part of his learning.

"That's kind of been the painstaking, slow, methodical approach to make sure that I know Carolina Panthers 2023," Canales said. "It took me about two-and-a-half, three games to get emotionally involved in Panthers football to where I'm like, 'No, oh, we got to pick this up.' So I'm all-in, and actually, I'm just now finishing up kind of watching those in detail."

Canales said he appreciated "the spirit of the team" as he watched those tapes (the two games against his 2023 Buccaneers were hard-fought, if not high-scoring affairs), but he's also trying to watch them clinically to try to improve the roster. 

"That should always be true so that we never get complacent with the guys that we have, although we love them, although we're excited about them, and I'm still learning the Carolina Panthers as I've been watching film," he said. "Now, I have the benefit of not having the emotional connection to a lot of these guys, so I can come in objectively and just say that's good enough, that's not good enough. And I don't want to get into specifics about who I'm talking about in that regard, but that is my advantage right now.

"So I just come here with really an open mind for how to improve our roster."

—Before retiring this offseason, Nick Saban built a dynasty with the Alabama Crimson Tide. His seven total national championships (one with LSU, six with Alabama) are the most for a coach of all time. But Saban's legacy has perpetrated not only the college level but the NFL as well.

While the head coach at Bama, Saban had 123 players selected in the NFL draft. In the 2023 season alone, Alabama had 72 players appear in at least a regular season game..) All were coached by Saban.

Dave Canales has seen the Saban effect filter through the NFL at every stop of his career, with the Seattle Seahawks, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and the Carolina Panthers.

"It feels like they play a lot of football," Canales joked Tuesday at the NFL Combine. "I don't know how they get it done, and I don't know what the rules are and all that, but the Alabama product feels like those guys play a lot of ball. You get a really polished product."

Playing that much ball also hardens someone, which, in turn, serves as a foundation in the NFL.

"There's a toughness to them," Canales continued. "It feels like they know what they're there for, to play ball. There aren't a lot of questions asked about what you ask them to do. They show up, and they do what they're asked; they know it's their job, and they take pride in it."

This toughness is something Canales is already seeing in his quarterback, Bryce Young.

Young is a Saban product that reached the highest of highs in college, heading into the NFL. Young won a National Championship and a Heisman Trophy at Alabama, was named a consensus All-American, and became the No. 1 overall pick in the 2023 draft.

He infamously went 2-14 as a starter in his rookie season with the Panthers while taking a franchise record-tying 62 sacks. What he did the next play, though, gives Canales confidence that Young can be another tough Alabama product.

"You watch a lot of tape when you look back, (things) you didn't see that when you were on the other side, just like courage," Canales said of what jumps out about Young's tape. "Play before he gets smoked. Next play, he stands in there and rips a 15 yard in-cut in the face of the rush. Just kind of just seeing that courage that he has, the short memory, going to that next play mentality, that's been really encouraging to me."

— Both Morgan and Canales brought their one-liner games to their first combine pressers. 

Morgan was asked if there were any offseason surgeries, and he replied: "For me? No."

Moments later, the caffeinated Canales bounced onto the podium and said he had already gotten a workout in Tuesday morning and was "ready to rock" as he waited for his first question. 

He credited offensive coordinator Brad Idzik as his "personal trainer" but said his Tuesday work was: "bike, quick circuit, and then finish off with the incline walk.

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