Skip to main content

Ahead of first draft together, Dan Morgan and Dave Canales spent time on basics

Dan Morgan, Dave Canales

CHARLOTTE — There are particular things the Panthers are looking for in the draft next week.

But before they could talk about which wide receiver, or which cornerback, or which pass-rusher (among all the other positions), they had to know what style of receiver, what size of cornerback, or what the responsibilities would be for a pass-rusher, so they knew how to draft.

Panthers head coach Dave Canales said that even before scouts went on the road for pro days, general manager Dan Morgan brought the personnel department and the coaching staff together to make sure they were operating from a shared vision.

"Dan had the great idea; once our staffs were set, he said, let's bring them in here," Canales said. "I want you guys to talk about our schemes to my staff, the personnel department, and the guys. And so we, we literally went like big picture offensive philosophy, (coordinator Ejiro Evero) comes in and talks about big picture defensive philosophy. Each position coach talked about the traits that they're looking for. So then we were able to kind of bring that picture to life from a coaching standpoint."

And that's more important than any of the minutiae that was covered during the pre-draft press conference Thursday. Yes, they want to take the best player available after filling in a lot of needs in free agency. Yes, they'll consider trading both up and back. Naturally, they'll leave the door open for all options, including circling back with veteran cornerback Stephon Gilmore after the draft.

But those are all details, and they spent a lot of time this offseason thinking with a broader scope.

Being on the same page is critical when it's time to pick players because Morgan wants to pick ones that fit into Canales' offensive system or what coordinator Ejiro Evero needs on defense. That sounds basic, but it's not something you can always take for granted. So Morgan doesn't just want to have scouts start grading corners, he wants to have a framework for what kind of corners they want, down to specific requirements for guys who could play nickel, for instance.

That demands a lot of talking on the front end, building an understanding of each other first, and then expanding that understanding through the coaching staff and scouting department.

"It's a lot of fun," Morgan said. "Working with Dave is really easy and I think hopefully he would say the same thing about me, where it's easy. We have fun. I think it's easy to really do something like this and put a board together when you enjoy who you're working with, not just Dave, but all the scouts, all the coaches, it's great coming into work every day.

"We have a really good environment right now. We feel like our culture is changing. Not only in the locker room but also upstairs, too. So, we're really excited about the direction that we're moving."

They talked from their first press conference together about "alignment," and that's a key. But Canales pointed to the days before that first press conference when he and Morgan flew to Mobile, Ala. for the Senior Bowl as the first evidence of the process of aligning.

Dave Canales, Dan Morgan

"Really, take it back to the Senior Bowl, just flying out there together, having dinners, just talking about the roster," Canales said. "At that point, we were still trying to put a staff together and all that, but I just think back to there, to where we are right now. Just the hours, the time, the connection, the conversations. And I think one of the coolest things that I saw is as we worked through free agency, coming out of the other side of it with this great feeling like, all right, hey, this takes some pressure off of 'gosh, we've got to meet all these needs through the draft.' Now we get to really just hone in and focus on the guys that are really 'Panthers fits.'

"For me, it's just trying to be the bridge with the coaching staff, bringing information from the coaching staff to Dan, the two of us talking through it, then him collecting all the information of all the scouts that have been on the road, just grinding."

Morgan's been a part of previous scouting processes with multiple teams, but this is his first year truly in charge of the draft. So he's seen the way other GMs, whether in Seattle, Buffalo, or here operate. And he's taken parts of all those experiences and put into this one, knowing the first step is to make sure everyone is together.

"I think obviously having final say, it's about collecting everybody's opinions, filtering that, and then making the best decision for the Carolina Panthers," Morgan said. "I think from a process standpoint, coming up the ranks, you're always thinking to yourself, OK, how would I do this? And obviously I have my own methods.

"We've had some really cool studies amongst the scouts. Us just talking through guys comparing guys placing guys on the board. So it's really been a collaborative effort. Scouts have done a great job with all the background; just kind of getting to know all these guys. So, that's really what it's all about. You watch the tape, but then how are we going to best know this player? So, who's going to be coming in our building when and if we draft them next week? So, through this process it's been thorough, and I've been really happy with it."

Bryce Young

So while there is a lot of talk, and a lot of mock drafts which try to determine which individual players are fits here, for Canales and Morgan, this first draft is about a larger point, rather than anything as granular as finding weapons for quarterback Bryce Young or anything like that.

"I think it's not about surrounding Bryce with great players; it's about building a great team, and then Bryce can just do his part of it," Canales said. "That's my goal. That's my heart for this whole thing. I want him to be able to feel like he can just come and just do his 1/11th. If he can just do his part, look at the great teams he was a part of in Alabama. He won a lot of games when they had a good offense and a good defense. He did his part, and he played big in big moments, and I would love to create that here so he can just do that part of it and not make it about him.

"The pass game will be specific to Bryce will become that, you know, it will become what he's confident with and what he can do. ... But I just kind of want to try to build the team the right way."

That begins next Friday night with the 33rd and 39th overall picks in the second round. While the lack of a first-rounder is not ideal, Morgan said he's comfortable with the idea he can add needed talent with a pair of choices in the top 40.

And if they do it right, he hopes picking high in the order isn't something they'll have to do often.

"Yeah, hopefully, we're picking a lot later for years to come and not early draft picks," Morgan said. "So I'd like to get used to that."

Maybe not picking 33rd and 39th late, but the particulars of those positions are less important than the groundwork they'll lay in their first draft together, and the work they've already done.

View photos of the Panthers' second week of voluntary offseason workouts on Tuesday.