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Trading down could be an option for Carolina Panthers in the NFL draft

The Carolina Panthers were first on the clock at New York’s Radio City Music Hall last April as owners of the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft.

They used it on Auburn quarterback Cam Newton, who needed only two games to prove general manager Marty Hurney made the right decision.

This year the Panthers will wait to see what happens with the first eight picks before deciding what to do at No. 9 – if they stay there.

Hurney said Thursday the Panthers would be willing to trade back in the right situation, adding he wouldn’t expect to hear from any interested trade partners until the eve of the draft, held April 26-28.

But if the Panthers hang on to the pick, second-year coach Ron Rivera said it would be used on a player expected to make a big splash immediately.

“We’re not like where we were last year. We had the pick of the litter. Now we’ve got to react to what’s happening – who goes here, who goes there and then we’ll decide who fits us best and who’s going to help us immediately,” Rivera said.

“We’re not taking a guy early to have him develop. We’re taking a guy early to put him on the field and have him help us right away. That’s what the expectation is.”

Hurney and Rivera would not discuss specific players at their pre-draft news conference Thursday. But both acknowledged the most pressing needs are on a defense that finished 28th in the league last season.

The Panthers had all of the top prospects come to Charlotte for visits, including Louisiana State defensive tackle Michael Brockers, North Carolina defensive end Quinton Coples, Mississippi State defensive tackle Fletcher Cox and Boston College linebacker Luke Kuechly.

South Carolina cornerback Stephon Gilmore met with Panthers secondary coach Steve Wilks last week in Gilmore’s hometown of Rock Hill.

There was an unknown number of offensive players who took pre-draft trips to Charlotte, and Hurney talked about making the team’s strength – the Newton-led offense – stronger. With Newton breaking Peyton Manning’s rookie passing record, the offense improved from last in the league in 2010 in John Fox’s final season to seventh last season.

“We’re not sneaking up on anybody. We’ve got a quarterback that people know about. We have playmakers that people know about,” Rivera said.

• Rivera said the team has had 100 percent participation at this week’s voluntary workouts, with all 71 players on the roster reporting to Bank of America Stadium. The team’s on-field work begins with a rookie minicamp May 11-13.

• Beason and Davis have been cleared for some activities, but Rivera did not give a timetable for their return to the practice field. Rivera said the Panthers are “not sure” what they’ll get from Davis, who is trying to become the first player in league history to come back from three ACL surgeries on the same knee.

• Defensive end Charles Johnson cut his hand at a charity event during the offseason, Rivera said. Johnson required stitches, but not surgery.