CHARLOTTE, N.C. (Charlotte Observer) - Monday was scheduled to be the first day of offseason activities for the Panthers. Matt Rhule’s first season as head coach was officially set to begin and he was finally going to have the opportunity to work with and meet all of his new team.
Instead, team facilities around the NFL remain closed and all offseason training has been officially postponed in order to limit the spread of COVID-19.
As Carolina and the four other NFL teams with new head coaches await word from the league on how exactly they are supposed, and allowed, to proceed with offseason programs, they did receive official notice Monday that come time for the draft April 23-25, they’ll be required to make their selections away from the teams’ facilities. Social distancing rules and closed facilities still apply to the NFL’s biggest offseason event.
With the Panthers unable to work from Bank of America Stadium, coaches and front-office personnel will be conducting the draft apart from each other in their own homes and communicating via teleconference. Usually on draft night, all of the decision-makers sit in the same room to easily communicate on moves. Working out a variety of approaches in advance becomes that much more important, such as potential draft-night trades and if/then scenarios for any given available player. Real-time communication won’t be as simple.
“I never thought I would be saying that, but kind of an old dog like me, I’ve been using teleconferencing with the scouts and with the coaches and doing calls with some players, and everything’s basically been through that,” Panthers general manager Marty Hurney said. “But we’ve basically been meeting, just as much maybe even a little more, probably more than we have in the past, because we’re not going to pro days, so you spend the time on conference calls and spend the time watching tape.”
The draft process had already been disrupted with the cancellation of pro days around the country and the league prohibiting teams from in-person meetings with prospects. New free agent signings’ physicals have been delayed and an independent doctor now must be agreed to, holding up deals around the league.
Hurney prefers to scout players in person, and attended pro days, including Auburn, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Oregon, just prior to the league suspending such visits. This offseason has required new approaches to the draft preparation process.
The team will have to hope that the remote work pays off. FaceTime calls allow them to get to know college players just like they would during in-person visits with the top 30 players on their draft board, speaking with them during with hour-long interviews.
“I think we’re going to be fine,” Hurney said about the team adjusting to not being in the same room. “The good thing about us is that we’re an organization that (communicates) very well. So now when you do communicate very well, I think now it’s just you have to find the different ways and adjust to the situation is how you’re going to do it, and I think we have plans in place for every scenario.”
These changes are only intensified for a team like the Panthers, who have almost an entirely new coaching staff. They have less experience communicating during a draft or understanding each others preferences.
But they’ve also had more time to talk than usual, and if anyone knows the college prospects in this year’s draft, it’s Rhule and his staff, with a majority of them coming directly from coaching at the college level. That said, this will be a learning experience for everyone.