One term I believe gets thrown around way too much is the label of having "character issues". Some guys deserve the label, but many guys get labeled undeservedly so. What determines if someone's character is flawed, and how do these flaws determine their future effectiveness as a professional football player? The biggest question involves if the player shows a trend to do things in the future that will affect his playing time. In light of the character issues that have been cited against several guys in this year's draft and against some of our current players, I wish to add my two cents and gauge the opinions of the CSR community by giving some overviews and comparisons of players.
This dead horse has been somewhat beaten, but I want to say that even coming in I felt him being labeled as a character risk was incorrect. It was also disappointing to see various analysts use the issues surrounding him to question his work ethic. Several of them admitted that they had nothing definitive to base the negative opinions of his work ethic on (other than stereotypes), and ignored the fact that he had to show a strong work ethic to win two national championships at two different schools while going unbeaten in the SEC. You don't go undefeated in college football by showing up unprepared, running around, and just winging it. In fact because of the sheer time commitment alone, being a collegiate football player in itself should be synonymous with having at least a decent work ethic. Most of these guys are working out and/or studying film in the morning, going to class during the day, practicing/studying film in the afternoon and evening, and then doing classwork at night. For the record, this is how I look at his prior issues:
1) Allegations of cheating: A lot of people cheat in college, whether its someone giving you some test questions, or a lady friend wanting to write a paper for you. I did both and I turned out fine.
2) Stolen Laptop allegations: I look at this as the one dumb mistake you make when you are young, and even Cam is quoted as saying it was a "senseless mistake". Dumb stuff happens in the dorms, and he exhibted no further behavior consistent with being a random thief.
3) Money request issue from dad: It happens, we all know it happens, lets stop pretending that it doesn't happen. If you've ever lived in a major college town and seen the cars some of the players drive, you know that it has to be happening. Obviously if his dad felt "it's not going to be free this time", then he believed that there were players at the University of Florida getting paid.
That was it on Cam. No drug arrests, no bar fight allegations, no DUIs, no beating his girlfriend. Though I was previoulsy concerned about his physical transition to the pro game, I did not feel a reason to doubt the guys integrity before the draft.
Now he was a guy I was a little more on the fence with. For a refresher...
Jr. year- Cited for public urination: He should have been a little smarter than that, but its not a reason to throw him under the bus. Many do it, few get caught.
Sr. year- A DUI in which he was caught driving the wrong way on a one-way street: DUI is unfortunately much more common than it should be. What I look for is if someone is reckless enough to commit a second one. He did not, but:
Prior to the draft: He got into an car accident and was caught driving with a suspended license due to his DUI. The accident occurred on a Tuesday afternoon when he was on his way to rehab his knee (note: not on the way to a club). Bad decision maybe, but not really something to crucify him over.
So really the biggest issue against Hogan was the DUI. Rivera spoke with Hogan on the phone before the draft, and felt comfortable with selecting the guy. It appears that taking a chance on him may work out well for the Panthers in the future. He has not had any incidents thus far, so the other teams skipping over him could be our blessing.
Now for the new guys...
We all have seen the story. He was riding around with a former teammate in Florida and got caught with a small amount of marijuana. Its one of those things that is kind of a big deal, but not really that big of a deal at the same time. Its not so much about smoking weed, (since so many do it), but that HE (a potential multi-million dollar draft prospect) got caught doing it. He must understand that there are different levels of responsibility for different people, and him getting caught doing this is different from the average college guy smoking weed. Any pre-draft tweak has the ability to cost his pockets dearly. The question is was this a moment of stupidity, or does he have some true character flaws? This seems to be a first offense, so I believe he likely will be fine as long as he interviews well.
Mr. Jenkins appears to be in a slightly different situation because of his history. He was caught in a club possessing a small amount of marijuana, and then got caught again with marijuana in his car 3 months later. Two years earlier, he was arrested following a fight. After being kicked off the UF team for his second drug incident in 3 months, he was quoted as saying, "No doubt, if Coach Meyer were still coaching, I'd still be playing for the Gators. Coach Meyer knows what it takes to win." However, he did try and take responsibility by saying, "It wasn't Coach Muschamp's fault; it was my fault". I believe that some deep interviews are needed to show that he is truly remorseful and understands the potential consequences of any future incidents. Hopefully the fighting and drugs in the club are behind him. He is only one mistake away as a professional from immediately being labeled as Pacman Jones 2.0 (a guy who was a top ten pick the year he was drafted).
When a player's character or work ethic is called into question, I believe the best witness will always be that player's former coaches. They have spent more than enough time with the player to be able to have a good idea of what type of work ethic they have, and what type of professional they will be. The biggest question is will they committ the troublesome act again, making the investment not worth the risk. Interviews go a long way into giving teams confidence. This was certainly the case with Cam, and to a lesser extent with Brandon Hogan. Guys have to say the right things, and come across as sincere while saying it.
If the Panthers do decide they are comfortable with Dre K , Janoris Jenkins, or any other guy with "character issues", they have two things working for them as an organization when dealing with them. To them, drafting Brandon Hogan should show that the organization has given people second chances after hazy incidents. At the same time, the Panthers have Lawrence Wilson as an example to show that the organization is very serious when they say you only get one time to betray that trust. To quote Ron Rivera to Brandon Hogan, "there's no three strikes and you're out". So what do you guys and gals think?