Rhule’s Panthers can thrive from college experience
At the end of the North team’s Senior Bowl practice, Denzel Mims stood toward the side of the field talking to an NFL scout. Once that conversation wrapped up, he was approached by his college wide receivers coach, and the pair had a short conversation that included a lot of laughter and smiling.
That’s all perfectly normal. Coaches talk to their former players all the time as they prepare to join the NFL. They aren’t usually at events like the Senior Bowl, however, and they certainly aren’t typically there as part of a new NFL staff that’s made up of coaches coming from the same college team.
Welcome to the new era of the Carolina Panthers.
Mims was speaking with new Panthers wide receivers coach Frisman Jackson after practice. For the former Baylor wide receiver, the experience is entirely unique in the best way.
“It feels amazing. I’ve been around those guys for three years now, Frisman two (years). I feel like I’ve been around them forever,” Mims said. “Just having them here at this type of moment, in this situation, it feels amazing … having them here is outstanding.”
Almost all of the Panthers’ coaches were in attendance at the Senior Bowl, which isn’t common for NFL staffs. Head coach Matt Rhule brought them all down to Mobile in order to get to know each other better and to begin the scouting process.
Most teams don’t send many coaches to Mobile anymore. Technology has advanced, and the coaches can watch how players practice on tape. But by being there, the Panthers get the benefit of interacting with players in person through interviews and other conversations that cannot be replicated on film.
Which brings us to back to Mims. There were only two Baylor players at the Senior Bowl, Mims and running back JaMycal Hasty. About half of Carolina’s coaches spent last season at Baylor. It puts the team in a unique spot for this season specifically. How often does a team know intimately the ins and outs of the players they’re scouting?
Rhule may not have recruited all of the Baylor players who are entering this year’s draft, but he spent three years with them.
The value of that time in Waco, Texas, extends beyond Baylor and spans the Big 12, where the staff scouted opponents for three years. Texas wide receiver Collin Johnson is one player they’re familiar with who had a couple of solid grabs in the end zone Thursday. Texas Tech offensive tackle Terence Steele is another. Twelve players from the Big 12 were there. The knowledge the Panthers have about the players at the Senior Bowl alone shows how that resource could play a role in their draft.
Not many NFL teams have that, coaches who watched college players improve over time. It extends to new Panthers offensive coordinator Joe Brady with the LSU players who are in the draft as well. While quarterback Joe Burrow won’t last beyond the first overall pick, there isn’t a single NFL coach who has a better read of who Burrow is as a player or a person. That change in perspective can be an irreplaceable advantage in the draft process.
What the Panthers do with that experience come draft time will be interesting. Does it make them more likely to take players from those schools? Maybe not. General manager Marty Hurney is still in charge of the scouting process. But it’s hard to imagine that the coaches’ insight into Baylor players doesn’t come in handy or make an impact. It’s more wellrounded information on those players
The best player at a position of need is going to be picked. But what about those late-round selections? Familiarity never hurts. Just look at Rhule’s coaching staff.
The Panthers’ coaches all came down to Mobile before the staff was completed, before some had even been to Charlotte and before almost most of them had found places to live. It was a chance for them to bond, while getting jump on the most important part of this rebuild.
Mobile was the first step in Rhule’s coaching tenure.
The true tests come next.