Carolina Panthers

Observer reporter revisits three-day trip watching NFL prospects

Former Carolina Panthers safety Mike Minter is the football coach at Campbell, where he’ll enter his third season with the Camels this fall. On his three-day trip to pro days, the Observer’s Jonathan Jones visited Minter.
Former Carolina Panthers safety Mike Minter is the football coach at Campbell, where he’ll enter his third season with the Camels this fall. On his three-day trip to pro days, the Observer’s Jonathan Jones visited Minter. tlong@newsobserver.com

Panthers reporter Jonathan Jones traveled to four pro days in the state in three days, writing features about prospects who auditioned for NFL scouts throughout the week. But there was still plenty left to say. Here are five storylines from the trip.

It was strange to see John Bunting back on North Carolina’s campus Tuesday without his trademark mustache.

Bunting, who played at UNC in the late 60s and early 70s and coached there from 2001 to 2006, was at UNC’s pro day to watch linebackers Jeff Schoettmer and Shakeel Rashad perform after he trained them in the weeks leading up to pro day.

“The reason for cutting that mustache off was so I could get away from football a little bit,” said Bunting, who said he shaved it shortly after he was fired in 2006. “It’s true. I wanted to get away a little bit, and it was good for me.

“Every time I come back to Chapel Hill it’s a beautiful experience for me. It’s always in my heart. It’s great to see the kind of year that they had and I’m very, very proud of the year that they had.”

Since leading North Carolina, Bunting has been a color commentator for ESPN and worked with draft prospects at IMG Academy in Florida.

In 2012 he worked out Panthers middle linebacker Luke Kuechly. He said he focused on getting Kuechly to not run as high and to keep his feet closer to the ground.

When Kuechly arrived at IMG he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.75 seconds, Bunting said. After two months of training, Kuechly ran it in 4.58 seconds at the NFL scouting combine.

“I would tell him to skim grass” Bunting said. “He understood that, and he used to dig up grass at times. I’d say, ‘Don’t ruin the turf! Just skim it!’ ”

Bunting worked out Rashad and Schoettmer in Dallas, and he’s worked out players in Wilmington, where he lives. Gary Shipman, an agent in Wilmington who represents three Tar Heels, asked Bunting if he could work with them before their pro day.

He says now that he probably should have gotten an agent during his time at North Carolina so that he could do more hired work. Bunting likes working with linebackers in preparation for the draft, and this could be his post-coaching career if he wants it.

“I don’t know if I’ll keep doing it,” Bunting said. “But if people call and they want me to work with some kids they’ve got, hey, I’m for hire.”

No media at N.C. State

I had planned to attend N.C. State’s pro day on Monday and just took it for granted that I could show up and watch the outdoor drills like I had in the past.

But I just wanted to check the day before, and I’m glad I did. For the first time, the Wolfpack did not allow media to view its pro day.

I asked for further clarification, and apparently N.C. State held its pro day in its new indoor facility for the first time. In choosing not to allow media, Wolfpack officials described it as “a more businesslike” approach to the day.

N.C. State also didn’t allow agents, and that I get. Often agents get in the way. They might talk to current student-athletes or try to talk to scouts as they do their job.

But not allowing media doesn’t make sense. I wanted to write about quarterback Jacoby Brissett since I missed him at last month’s NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis.

I was going to watch him throw, see his footwork and then write about his chances in the draft. I probably would have also taken in the Wolfpack’s new indoor facility and raved about it.

Priming the pump at Campbell

But in a sense, I’m glad that happened at N.C. State because I wouldn’t have gone to Buies Creek and seen what Mike Minter is doing with Campbell University.

Minter, a former 10-year safety with the Carolina Panthers, is entering his third year as coach of the Camels, and he invited me into the team meeting room Monday afternoon.

This is late March. There are five or six spring practices left until the spring game. In other words, how much can you really meet about right now?

Minter showed players a video on YouTube from late motivational speaker Zig Ziglar. Titled “Prime the Pump,” the video discusses how you must put in work to get something in return. And once that work has been done by priming the pump, water flows easily.

Ziglar uses a water pump in the video, and on a meeting room table sat a red water pump Minter also used.

“We think it’s supposed to fall out of the sky and hit us up on the head,” Minter said to the group about success. “It don’t work that way. We need to prime the pump with attitude in spring ball.

“In the fourth quarter, it’s all about being steady and doing my job. Because I’ve already done the work in the first, second and third quarters.”

At the end of the speech, Minter switched gears. He needed to relate to the 18-21-year-olds. So he made a quip that dealt with pumping, and it drew laughter from the room full of players.

In about 10 minutes I saw so many sides of Minter. He’s a coach, he’s an inspiration to those young men and he’s relatable. Campbell is lucky to have him.

Looking good

For many of these prospects, how you dress helps how you perform.

At least that’s what they think.

UNC and Duke outfitted their players in Nike gear that had the school’s pro day 2016 emblazed on the front of the shirts and matching shorts.

Those schools have the money and apparel deals to pull that off, while Campbell and N.C. Central (like most schools) had their guys show up in whatever they were wearing.

There’s always going to be flash at these things. Guys want to stand out and be remembered.

North Carolina guard Landon Turner wore highlighter-green cleats for his position drills. UNC running back Romar Morris considered wearing gold cleats like Olympic gold medalist Michael Johnson, who owns the facility where Morris worked out.

N.C. Central cornerback Ryan Smith wore green cleats and gloves for his pro day.

I liken it to how entertainer Michael Jackson wore white socks with his high-water black pants and black shoes. He wanted to emphasize footwork, and some of these guys want the same thing.

Panthers cornerback Josh Norman changed his outfits for each drill at his pro day at Coastal Carolina in 2012.

It’s fun, and they think it gives them a boost. But these scouts watching them are seasoned. I don’t know if it helps at all.

Heisman finalist could have been a Blue Devil

Duke receiver Max McCaffrey was impressive at Wednesday’s pro day, and he had his family there to see it.

McCaffrey’s father is former Denver Broncos receiver Ed McCaffrey. One of his younger brothers, Dylan, will play quarterback at Michigan. Another younger brother, Christian, was the runner-up for the Heisman Trophy last season.

Running back Christian McCaffrey was on spring break this week from Stanford and flew out to watch his brother run a 40-yard dash in 4.40 seconds and catch every pass thrown his way at pro day.

“He’s worked so hard and it’s so cool to see,” Christian told me. “It’s very surreal watching him do things that could get him to the next level now. Just cool to see him and he’s doing so well today. We’re just here to support him.

“He’s worked so hard his last four years and this is a great culmination to see where he’s at. I’m just excited for his future.”

But did you know Duke was close to signing the star running back out of high school? With Max in Durham, Christian weighed the option of Duke heavily before deciding on Stanford.

“It was definitely one of my top choices,” Christian said of Duke. “I played with my older brother practically my whole life. Not going here was actually a tough decision because it was the first time that I wouldn’t play with him in any sport. It was definitely tough. I’m happy to see what he’s done and sometimes you’ve got to go your separate ways.

“There are definitely times I think of (what could have been.) We had a good run in high school and he’s done so well and I’m excited to see what the future has for him. I definitely miss him but we do a good job of staying in touch.”

What was cool to see was, not only was Christian there for support, but he was using his iPhone to video Max’s workout and even used the timer on his 40-yard dash.

Jonathan Jones: 704-358-5323, @jjones9

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