Panthers retooled offense designed to help No. 1 pick win

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — The Carolina Panthers aren’t making any secrets about their plans to select a quarterback with the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft, even if they aren’t saying which one.

So, this offseason has been about acquiring the right pieces to help him succeed when he arrives.

In recent days the Panthers have agreed to terms with running back Miles Sanders, wide receiver Adam Thielen, tight end Hayden Hurst and backup quarterback and soon-to-be mentor Andy Dalton in free agency. They also plan to add another wide receiver who is a vertical threat in the draft or later on in free agency.

“If you’re gonna go with a young quarterback, you have to have a running back, you have to have the tight end and you have to have the receivers,” Panthers general manager Scott Fitterer said Monday. “We feel like we have the offensive line, and we have cemented the starting five.”

Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud, Alabama’s Bryce Young, Florida’s Anthony Richardson or Kentucky’s Will Levis are the four QBs the Panthers are considering with the No. 1 overall pick.

The team plans to attend their pro days and bring all four in for more complete in-person interviews prior to the NFL draft.

Fitterer is hoping the additions of the veteran offensive playmakers helps offset the loss of No. 1 wide receiver D.J. Moore, a difficult, but necessary part of the trade package with the Chicago Bears that allowed the Panthers to move up from the ninth pick to No. 1 overall.

Moore had been an integral part of Carolina's offense with 5,201 yards and 364 receptions over the previous seasons.

“We wanted to put ourselves in a position to get a quarterback,” Fitterer said. “We didn’t expect to have to include a player in that conversation, especially someone like D.J. Moore. Unfortunately, we had to give up D.J." to make it work.

It's no coincidence that Sanders, Thielen and Hurst all have plenty of NFL experience and come to Carolina from winning teams.

The Panthers felt winning experience was necessary to get the young QB off on the right foot.

“We really feel like we’re putting this guy in a good position with some of the pieces that we’ve signed,” coach Frank Reich said. “I feel like with the pieces we have put in place he can walk in and be ready to go.”

Sanders, Thielen and Hurst also possess a catch-and-run element to their games, which Reich covets.

“We think we know how to speed things up at times to get guys catch and run (opportunities),” Reich said. “So to be good in space, to be good after contact — those are big."

As for who'll be the No. 1 pick, the Panthers aren't tipping their hand.

They say they are still doing research on the top four guys.

Reich has a reputation for working with taller quarterbacks, but said he's open to anything and noted that he was a big believer in Russell Wilson coming out of college. Hypothetically, that is good news for Alabama's Young, who is undersized at 5-foot-10.

“If there are 10 categories you look at with every quarterback, the real question is not how you evaluate each of those categories — the big part is how much you're going to weigh each of those categories,” Reich said. “They’re all a factor. Everything’s a factor. But ultimately, it really comes down to being a playmaker, being a guy who can make plays all over the field.”

So what qualities do the Panthers weigh the most in the decision-making progress?

“That would be like giving away the proprietary formula for Kentucky Fried Chicken, right?” joked Reich. "I mean, we all weigh things slightly different. So I'm just excited to dig into (getting to know) these guys."

As for whether Reich will start the rookie right away or have him sit a few games behind Dalton, a 12-year veteran, remains to be seen.

“Ideally, you want to play the guy when he’s ready, when the team is ready,” Reich said. “So we’ll evaluate that. I have thoughts in my mind about how I would see that playing out, but we have to let it play out.”


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