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Panthers won't sacrifice to fill needs in draft

By MIKE CRANSTON
AP Sports Writer

CHARLOTTE, N.C (AP) — It takes no more than a quick glance at the depth chart to know the Carolina Panthers need help at offensive tackle, running back and defensive end. Judging from last year, that doesn’t mean they’ll take players at those positions early in this weekend’s draft.
For the Panthers, it’s all about their draft board, that complicated, detailed and highly secretive grid they compile to rank draft prospects.
“If there are two players there and one is at a position that you have a lot of depth in and another is at a position you don’t have a lot of depth in, then obviously you would opt for the one that you didn’t have a lot of depth in,” general manager Marty Hurney said Monday. “But again, only if those players are close in that same group. You don’t blatantly reach and go down to fill a need.”
Yes, many of the mock drafts have the Panthers taking Pittsburgh center Jeff Otah or Illinois running back running back Rashard Mende nhall with the 13th pick in the first round. They’re both highly ranked players who would fill a need.
But what if Boston College quarterback Matt Ryan falls to No. 13?
“A year ago, safety was a need and we weren’t able to address the safety position,” coach John Fox said. “It wasn’t that we weren’t trying to. It just didn’t fall that way.”
Instead, Carolina traded down in the first round and ended up with linebacker Jon Beason, who turned into a starter and the team’s leading tackler.
The biggest surprise for the Panthers on day one of the draft was the decision to take center Ryan Kalil with one of their second-round picks. That happened a year after they signed center Justin Hartwig to a big free-agent contract.
“He was just too good a player and in too good of a position on our board to pass up,” Hurney said.
Now Kalil is penciled in as the starter for 2008 because Hartwig was released in the offseason.
It’s part of the uncertain ty of draft weekend, the culmination of months of studying film, scouting games and ranking hundreds of players on the giant draft board.
This year the Panthers have 10 picks, including two third-rounders and three in the seventh round, and plenty of holes to fill after missing the playoffs for a second straight season.
Carolina would like to move Travelle Wharton from tackle to guard, so taking a tackle from a decent crop of prospects seems logical. While Jake Long of Michigan should be one of the first few picks, Otah, Chris Williams of Vanderbilt and Ryan Clady of Boise State are all highly rated and most believe they could start right away.
“We’ve started rookies before,” Fox said.
The Panthers also need help at running back for DeAngelo Williams after they released last year’s starter, DeShaun Foster. While Darren McFadden of Arkansas will likely be long gone by No. 13, Mendenhall and Jonathan Stewart of Oregon could still be there.
They do n’t have a starting defensive end at the moment, either, after deciding not to re-sign 33-year-old Mike Rucker. Derrick Harvey of Florida or Phillip Merling of Clemson could help fill that need.
But “need” was a dirty word for Fox and Hurney during Monday’s news conference as they prepare for one of their most important drafts since they were teamed together in 2002. A bad draft and another non-playoff season, and another group of folks may be putting together Carolina’s draft board next year.
“Being open minded going into the draft is very important,” Hurney said. “Because I think when you get locked in, maybe that’s when you make mistakes. You go in and you let the board dictate what you do.”
Notes:@ Hurney said QB Jake Delhomme continues to progress in his rehab from right elbow surgery. He recently began throwing a regulation football, upgrading from a foam ball. “We have a lot of confidence in where Jake is health-wise right now,” Hurney said. … Hurney said no decision has been made on whether to re-sign Rucker, who is an unrestricted free agent.

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