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Panthers mum about taking Newton, but QB seems to be a fit

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The assumption is that the Panthers will take Auburn quarterback Cam Newton with the No. 1 overall pick Thursday. And while the team's brain trust did not discuss any player by name during Tuesday's pre-draft presser, no one ran from describing the attributes needed to play quarterback -- or that their team needs a signal-caller.

General manager Marty Hurney, coach Ron Rivera and director of college scouting Don Gregory all weighed in, with Rivera stressing the need for patience and tempered expectations for a young quarterback.

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"What we want to do offensively, we most certainly do have to find a quarterback that is going to lead this team, whether that quarterback is on this roster through free agency or trade or in the draft," Rivera said. "We have to make sure it's a sound pick and we have to be reasonable with the amount of time we expect the impact."

Fair enough. Carolina could opt to bypass Newton and develop Jimmy Clausen, who struggled as a rookie in the Panthers 2-14 season. Once the lockout is over, the team could try to make a trade for Kevin Kolb or someone of that ilk (Kyle Orton). However, the price to outbid other teams could get pretty rich -- not to mention the contract extension that could come with such a deal. Or the Panthers could wait for free agency and sign someone like Marc Bulger, Matt Hasselbeck, Donovan McNabb or Vince Young.

As much as taking Newton with the first overall pick is a risk, so could trying to find a veteran quarterback that has a lot of other teams competing for his services. Hoping to nab a veteran is no slam dunk because you might not get a player that fits the system -- or someone who can be highly effective.

Should Carolina pass on Newton the other options would seemingly be Alabama defensive tackle Marcell Dareus and LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson, viewed by most teams as the top defenders in the draft. Rivera is a defensive guy, and amid the conversation about the NFL being a quarterback-driven league, he said that defenders who can get after the quarterback and cover are equally as important.

The one element of these pre-draft pressers that can be interesting is what's not said, as it relates to what is said. With all the talk Carolina did about saying the NFL has become a passing game and rules have made it almost vital to throw the ball to move the chains, I'm thinking -- and it's a long-shot hunch -- that Georgia wide receiver A.J. Green could still be in play.

Wide receiver is Carolina's most glaring need, especially since Steve Smith seemingly doesn't want to be around and the feeling could be mutual. Other than him, what does Carolina have at wideout? Sure, there will be some good players from the third round and beyond (Carolina doesn't have a second-round pick) and they might be able to trade for a receiver or find some in free agency. In the end, though, would those caliber of players be any better than the guys they have now -- David Clowney, Armanti Edwards, David Gettis or Brandon LaFell?

Rivera did, in passing, mention wide receiver as a need, along with quarterback and offensive line. That could have been more of a throwaway than a clue. We'll know soon.

After all, a wide receiver can't impact the game as much as a quarterback and that's why Newton looks as if he's destined for Carolina. The value of a quarterback at the top pick makes much more sense than a wide receiver. Still, this is as odd an offseason as we've had in the NFL in years and I'm not so sure anything is certain at this point.

Follow Steve Wyche on Twitter @wyche89.

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