Rhule’s Pan­thers can thrive from col­lege ex­pe­ri­ence

The News & Observer (Sunday) - - Sports - BY ALAINA GETZENBERG aget­zen­[email protected]­lot­teob­server.com Alaina Getzenberg: @aget­zen­berg

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.

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