COLUMBUS, Ohio - For a half hour Wednesday afternoon, the Panthers and almost every other team in the NFL watched Ohio State quarterback CJ Stroud go through his pro day workout.
For the Panthers, the time spent with him the night before was just as important and five times longer, as they went to dinner with him and learned about the first of the quarterbacks they'll see this month that they're considering with the first overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft.
"Very likable. Really knows football. It's not too big for him," Panthers general manager Scott Fitterer said of Stroud after the workout. "He's very comfortable being in that environment and being in command.
"We had a great two-and-a-half-hour dinner with him, really impressive off the field as he was on."
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Stroud said the dinner was mostly about getting to know each other and less about the particulars of Xs and Os, but that he enjoyed the meeting and the meal.
"I mean, I kind of want to keep some of it to us just because I don't want to put out any of their business or mine, but I had a great time," Stroud said of the dinner. "Just having open, transparent conversations about everything.
"They showed me how they like to do things off the field and to help people in the community, and that's something I want to be a part of."
The dinner was an integral part of the pre-draft process - Stroud had the sea bass - and one they're expected to repeat. The Panthers left central Ohio late Wednesday afternoon bound for Alabama, where they'll watch Bryce Young throw tomorrow, then back north to Kentucky to see Will Levis on Friday. After some of them take a break for the league meetings in Phoenix next week, they'll head to Florida next Thursday to go through the same process with Gators quarterback Anthony Richardson. Then, all four quarterbacks are expected to make individual visits to Charlotte to continue the research.
But for now, it's not a small group to move around the country to see them all.
The Panthers are attacking this process in waves, with Fitterer and head coach Frank Reich, along with offensive coordinator Thomas Brown, senior assistant Jim Caldwell, quarterbacks coach Josh McCown, assistant GM Dan Morgan, and vice president of football administration Samir Suleiman traveling together to each of the pro days.
Owners Dave and Nicole Tepper were there Wednesday and are continuing on the trip as well.
The nine of them were joined by director of college scouting Cole Spencer, area scout Joel Patten, and senior personnel executive Jeff Morrow for an even dozen Wednesday (not counting the digital team).
That cast could change slightly in the coming days, but the Panthers have made a commitment to being thorough through this offseason (Reich was one of nine head coaching candidates they interviewed), so most of that group will see all four of the top quarterbacks.
For Fitterer, that's by design and shows the importance of getting this decision correct.
"We all see it," he said of the collective effort to watch, listen, and learn over the next nine days. "We're all seeing the same thing at the same time, and we can go back and discuss tomorrow, and then we'll get to see these first three quarterbacks back to back to back. It's a really good assessment of each guy, and we can talk about it. And at the end of this, we can sit down and kind of work through the hard decision-making process.
"You can never have enough information. You want to make the most informed decision. By doing that, you want to look at every option out there. Then you can feel really good that you've gone through the right process and your decision-making."