Another sign times changing in Carolina

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- As the Carolina Panthers were preparing to make Cam Newton the No. 1 overall pick in the draft, we talked several times about how the climate in the offices of Bank of America Stadium was changing.

Heck, the Panthers gave a pretty good indication of that before the lockout when they signed tight end Jeremy Shockey. Newton and Shockey would have been the kind of players the old Panthers wouldn’t have gone near.

Newton’s a quarterback and former coach John Fox didn’t believe in drafting quarterbacks early because he thought they took too long to develop. Even with Fox out of the equation, there were reports about possible background issues for Newton, and the Panthers generally have stayed away from guys with checkered pasts. The current regime did its homework on Newton’s past and it didn’t stop them from taking him. But, even as a pure football decision, taking Newton didn’t come with any guarantees.

That’s a break from the past, when the Panthers almost always went with the safe or conservative choice. Shockey, who is aging and more than a little flamboyant, also wouldn’t have fit the old profile.

But times have changed and the latest evidence of that came in the fourth round when Carolina drafted West Virginia cornerback Brandon Hogan. He’s a guy with a rather-lengthy history of off-field issues and is also coming off major knee surgery.

Back in the old days, there was a running joke between scouts around the league and scouts for the Panthers.

When they’d all get together at the Senior Bowl, combine or college pro days, the topic of some prospect with character issues would often come up. The Carolina scouts would say there was no way they could touch a guy with major issues because owner Jerry Richardson simply wouldn’t allow it.

The other scouts would almost always fire back with something like, “What about Steve Smith?’’ and the Carolina scouts would roll their eyes about the one guy who was the exception to a lot of rules in Carolina.

Now, it sounds as if Smith might be traded as soon as trades are allowed. But that doesn’t mean the topic of character issues will go away with him. More than ever, or at least since the days of Kerry Collins and Rae Carruth, it looks like the Panthers have opened their doors to guys who come with some questions.