Anyone waiting to see whether the Panthers would adopt the New York Giants’ draft philosophy under first-year general manager Dave Gettleman, wonder no more.
Carolina fans, here’s hoping you like defensive linemen.
Gettleman doubled down on defensive tackles Friday when he selected Purdue’s Kawann Short in the second round with the 44th overall pick of the NFL draft. During Thursday’s first round, the Panthers drafted Utah defensive tackle Star Lotulelei 14th overall.
When he studied the Panthers’ draft board Friday afternoon and saw Short at the top of it, Gettleman had a staff member look up the last time a team had taken defensive tackles with its first two picks.
It turns out it’s been done four other times since 1991, most recently in 2010 when Tampa Bay drafted Gerald McCoy and Brian Price.
Twice during Gettleman’s 13-year tenure as New York’s pro personnel director, the Giants selected defensive linemen with their first two picks. A few minutes after the Short pick was announced Friday night, Gettleman recalled a conversation he had with Giants coach Tom Coughlin.
“Tom Coughlin said to me a few years ago – and it just crystallized everything – the comment he made to me was, ‘Big men allow you to compete,’” Gettleman said.
The Panthers have needs beyond the defensive front, principally the secondary and offensive line.
But those will have to wait until at least Saturday, when the Panthers have single picks in the fourth, fifth and sixth rounds.
Carolina did not have a third-round selection Friday after trading it to San Francisco last year to take defensive end Frank Alexander in the fourth round.
Short, who started 50 consecutive games for the Boilermakers, seemed as surprised as anyone when the Panthers picked him. Though he had a good pre-draft visit to Charlotte, Short figured he’d end up elsewhere when he saw the Panthers take Lotulelei the first night.
“When they drafted Star, I said, ‘Oh, OK, who’s gonna get me next?’ I was expecting to go in the first round,” Short said in a conference call with Charlotte media. “To be honest, I thought they’d target one defensive lineman, one defensive tackle. They weren’t really telling me when I was down there they were going after two defensive tackles.”
Gettleman said the Panthers were actually scouting a Big Ten offensive lineman when they discovered Short. It was a tape from a 2011 game, and No. 93 for Purdue kept making plays.
“We kept seeing this flash of this defensive linemen kicking fanny. And we realized it was (Short), and we ended up watching him,” said Gettleman, laughing. “He’s really talented. Just as excited and as thrilled as I was (Thursday after drafting Lotulelei), I am the same way right now.”
Short, who is 6-3 and 308 pounds, was a second-team All-American as a senior, when he recorded seven of his 19.5 career sacks.
While Lotulelei is known for his ability to occupy blockers and stuff the run, Short is a more accomplished pass-rusher.
“He’s the most natural pass-rusher of all the defensive tackles in the draft. He was at the top of our board. We worked him out. We brought him in, spent time with him,” Gettleman said. “We feel really good about this pick. It gives us a tremendous defensive line rotation.”
In addition to their two draft picks, the Panthers re-signed veteran defensive tackle Dwan Edwards to a two-year deal during the offseason. But Gettleman and coach Ron Rivera said there will be plenty of work for all of them in a league that is becoming increasingly pass-driven.
Both Lotulelei and Short were criticized for taking plays off in college. But Rivera said that was a product of them being on the field too long.
That won’t be an issue if the Panthers stay healthy up front and employ the rotation Gettleman and Rivera envision.
“They’re throwing the ball 55 percent of the time now. You’re in your sub-package defense 55 percent of the time now,” Gettleman said. “And you need to be able to rotate these guys through so they can create the havoc that they’re capable of creating.”
Rivera, who played nine seasons as an NFL linebacker, said the mood among the defensive coaches was understandably upbeat after the first two nights of the draft.
“I know they’re thrilled right now. I know our players are thrilled,” Rivera said. “So I’m excited about it because this is going to give us something that we haven’t had. It will give us more depth, a better rotation.”
But are his offensive coaches getting antsy?
“Yes. They always do,” Rivera said. “At this time of year everybody does. Because there’s a lot of good offensive players. And we’ve got a good board. If you look at our board it’s a very well-balanced board.”
A board undoubtedly dotted with the names of the type of big men Coughlin was talking about.