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Panthers' GM Gettleman doesn't follow conventional thinking

SAN FRANCISCO -- Dave Gettleman takes a refreshing approach to evaluating prospective NFL talent.

It's consistent with the rest of what could be considered out-of-the-box thinking for a general manager in a league of copycats.

For instance, when Gettleman took over as GM of the Carolina Panthers in 2013, he chose not to blow up the organization. He made changes in their philosophical approach, but everyone remained employed. That included coach Ron Rivera, despite heavy speculation to the contrary.

Gettleman remembered how awful it was seeing all of the turnover within the team that gave him his first NFL position as a scouting intern, the Buffalo Bills, after Marv Levy replaced Hank Bullough as coach in 1986. Levy would go on to lead the Bills to four consecutive Super Bowl appearances and wind up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but the turnover of staff and their families left an indelible mark on Gettleman.

It wasn't until seven years later that Gettleman would be let go by the Bills. And after spending the next 19 years scouting with the Denver Broncos and New York Giants, he would see, first-hand, the value of stability.

Along the way, the 64-year-old native of Boston, Mass., learned something else: Most college football players aren't fundamentally sound and should be judged accordingly. That was among the major adjustments he made to the way the Panthers scouted.

“You have to look at it differently," Gettleman told reporters as his team prepared for Super Bowl 50. "For example, you take a linebacker. So the scout watches him and he says, ‘Well, he doesn’t know how to use his hands.’ So he knocks his grade down a little bit. Well, did anyone ever teach him? We don’t know. The other part of it is, too, to a certain degree, the college players (have) the 20-hour rule (the amount of time they can be involved with football between games), which hurts them. It hurts our ability to spend time the player."

To illustrate his point, Gettleman used an example of when he and the Panthers' coaches and player-personnel staff were watching defensive backs being timed as they went through a back-pedal-and-turn-drill at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis last year.

"I’m up in the box for the second group and I ask one of our defensive coaches how many guys are there? He said 53," Gettleman recalled. "I said, 'How many of them can back pedal and turn?' He said 12. I said, 'So are we going to take the other 41 and throw them away? How many of the other guys have the athletic ability to back pedal and turn?' So you have to look at those a little differently.”

Gettleman pointed to three unlikely starters for the Panthers (wide receiver Philly Brown and left guard Andrew Norwell, who were undrafted free agents, and right tackle Mike Remmers, who was signed from the St. Louis Rams' practice squad) as examples of key players being acquired in unconventional ways.

The Panthers also came up big with three significant acquisitions during the 2015 season: defensive end Jared Allen, whom they picked up in a trade with Chicago, and veteran free-agent cornerbacks Cortland Finnegan and Robert McClain, who were signed as injuries mounted in the secondary.

"Football is about watching film when they’re between the white lines," Gettleman said. "You’ve got to be patient and you have to watch. And the other part of it is you have to know what you are looking for. ... We watch film and we work at it."

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