If Michael Sam is highest-rated player left on board, Panthers say they would take him

jjones@charlotteobserver.com jperson@charlotteobserver.comFebruary 20, 2014 

Missouri  Gay Player Football

Missouri defensive end Michael Sam (52) announced recently that he is gay, but Carolina Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman said Thursday that the announcement wouldn’t play a role in whether the Panthers would select him in the NFL draft.


— The Carolina Panthers, like most NFL teams, did not release a statement following Michael Sam’s announcement he is gay.

Thursday, general manager Dave Gettleman made it clear that, though he has not begun evaluating the Missouri pass rusher, he will focus solely on his football merits.

“The bottom line is we’re going to evaluate Michael as a football player,” Gettleman said. “And if he’s on the board when it’s our turn to pick, and he’s the highest-rated guy on our board, we’ll take him.”

Sam, the SEC Co-Defensive Player of the Year, publicly came out as gay less than two weeks ago. Since then, questions have been raised about how Sam would be accepted in NFL locker rooms or if he would even be drafted.

Sam is thought of by analysts as an edge rusher who doesn’t have the skills to be an every-down defensive end or outside linebacker in the NFL. He’s also too big to be a special teams player. He’s projected anywhere from the fourth round to undrafted.

“I could care less about a man’s sexual preference!” Panthers running back DeAngelo Williams tweeted when the Sam news broke. “I care about winning games and being respectful in the locker room!”

Sam, along with the other defensive linemen and linebackers, will address the media on Saturday.

Hurst’s homecoming: North Carolina left tackle James Hurst, who grew up in Indianapolis going to Colts games, said it is cool being at Lucas Oil Stadium for the combine, even if he’s not participating in drills.

Hurst broke his left fibula in the first quarter of the Tar Heels’ victory against Cincinnati in the Belk Bowl and has been rehabbing in San Diego. Hurst started walking two weeks ago, and hopes to be full speed for North Carolina’s March 25 pro day.

“It’s my full physical audition,” Hurst said. “A lot of these guys are doing most of their stuff here. So knowing I’m going to be doing everything and when I’m going to be doing it, I feel good doing it at the university I played at and graduated from.”

Hurst started a Tar Heels-record 49 games but has seen his draft stock slip a bit as a result of the injury. The 6-foot-5 Hurst weighed in at 296 pounds Thursday – a little lighter than his ideal weight.

“With the injury I didn’t want to add any fat or anything like that,” he said.

Even though he’s not doing any testing this week, Hurst hasn’t had much time to spend with his family. He had dinner his first night in town with his mother while his father was working, but that might be the extent of his home cooking.

Hurst’s parents did not have season tickets when he lived in Indy, but he went to several games with his friends and followed the Colts during their playoff and Super Bowl seasons.

“Peyton Manning was around then, so it was pretty easy to be a Colts fan,” Hurst said. “They were winning a lot of games. ... That was a really good time for the franchise.”

NFC South history lesson: New Tampa Bay coach Lovie Smith, who spent nine years in Chicago and took the Bears to the Super Bowl during the 2006 season, said he didn’t realize there had never been a repeat champion in the 12-year history of the NFC South, which the Panthers won in 2013.

“Well, hopefully that holds true. That means we have an opportunity, right? We eliminated one of the teams right now,” Smith said. “But I think as you look at the league, not just our division, there are some quick turnarounds that happen. There’s no such thing as a rebuilding year. People want to see immediate improvement and success.

“I’ll just say we have a plan in mind, a philosophy, that we’re going to bring in, and there is a good foundation there. And our plan is, of course, for us to go from 4-12 to becoming relevant again.”

Former Bucs coach Greg Schiano was fired after going 11-21 in two seasons, and general manager Mark Dominik also was let go. Smith, a defensive-minded coach, told the Tampa Bay Times he would consider taking a franchise quarterback with the seventh overall pick if one were available.

Former N.C. State quarterback Mike Glennon completed 59.4 percent of his passes for 2,608 yards, with 19 touchdowns and nine interceptions, last season as a rookie.

Renner’s back: North Carolina quarterback Bryn Renner set a goal for himself after he suffered a fractured shoulder and detached labrum in November, ending his collegiate career.

At Chapel Hill’s Spanky’s Restaurant, Renner saw North Carolina basketball coach Roy Williams, who in 2009 tore his labrum.

“He said, ‘I was playing golf in five months.’ I said I’m going to beat that. I’m going to be at the combine throwing in 31/2 months,” Renner said. “To reach that goal and have that success is something I’m really proud of.”

Renner, who finished his career third in school history in most major passing categories, said he has been medically cleared to participate in all drills at the combine. He said his accuracy is the best it has been, though he still can’t turn his body the way he wants.

The injury, as well as a less-than-desirable start to his senior year, put a dent in his draft stock. But Renner said he doesn’t mind if he has to go the undrafted free-agent route.

“At the beginning of the season there was a lot more hype about it, and unfortunately adversity hits and you have to deal with it,” he said. “You can’t cry or whine about it. You just have to man up and deal with it. I realized that this game can humble you.”

Jones: 704-358-5323; Twitter: @jjones9 Person: 704-358-5123; Twitter: @josephperson

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