CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Carolina Panthers players knew management was taking a quarterback with the top pick of April’s NFL draft, but until commissioner Roger Goodell called out the name of Alabama’s Bryce Young, they weren’t sure which one.
The ensuing group text among the players expressed overwhelming approval.
Nothing that happened during offseason workouts, which came to a close Wednesday, changed that.
“We knew we were going to get a dawg,” cornerback Donte Jackson said as the Panthers wrapped up a two-day mandatory minicamp. “We’re definitely happy with the dawg we got. He’s different.”
From leadership to respect of teammates to taking command of the offense to understanding protections to accuracy to pocket awareness, Young checked a lot of boxes the past two months.
The former Crimson Tide star has already been elevated past veteran Andy Dalton to first on the depth chart, where he will be when training camp opens in late July. There is no reason to think he won’t be the starter in Week 1 against the Atlanta Falcons.
Young still has to prove himself in pads against a real pass rush and a defense that schemes against him, but as the Panthers head into vacation mode for five weeks, there’s not much doubt the 2021 Heisman Trophy winner was the right pick.
Young is determined to be even better when rookies report to Wofford College on July 26. It’s called accountability, the core of his leadership.
“It’s great to be in a locker room where, first and foremost, we hold ourselves accountable,” he said. “We look in the mirror first. Because of that, us all kind of having that mentality, we can lean on each other to pick each other up.”
Let’s take a closer look at a few of the key boxes Young has checked:
Leadership and respect
Wide receiver DJ Chark noted during the voluntary portion of OTAs that Young had earned the respect of the entire locker room.
“Everybody is here for him,” he said. “And we believe he can take us to some really high places.”
Edge rusher Brian Burns dittoed that.
“It’s hard not to like that kid,” he said. “He’s put quite a stamp on the locker room. He walks around with this kind of — excuse my language — ‘humble but I know I’m the s—‘ type of swag. You know? He’s got it, but he’s humble with it.”
Command of the offense
Young admittedly hasn’t spent much time getting to know Charlotte’s restaurant and social scene. He has spent most of his time buried in the playbook, “just [getting] ready for the next day.”
Because of that, his command of the offense was obvious on the first day of offseason workouts in the way he took charge of the huddle, made all the throws and did it in a chill way that made everything look easy.
“He did everything right, the little throws out in the flats, the little bubble screen stuff that people overthrow,” coach Frank Reich said that day. “He threw with accuracy, saw it well, knew where guys were supposed to be.”
Young finished camp that way, tossing two red zone touchdown passes through a supertight window to wide receiver Adam Thielen.
Pocket awareness and protections
This, in particular, caught the eye of 32-year-old Thielen as he enters his 10th NFL season.
“There’s so much talk about him, so there’s not a whole lot of surprise,” Thielen said. “For me, it’s probably been his movement in the pocket, his ability to get the ball out on time but do that in a way that isn’t just, like, sitting in one stagnant spot.
“Sometimes this time of the year, it can be easy when you’re not getting hit, no pads on … to just sit there, and no fear, and just throw it around. But you can tell that he practices like a game. … That’s been really impressive.”
Accuracy and off-schedule throws
One of the best examples happened last week during a 7-on-7 drill when Young found Chark deep on a go route.
“I really wasn’t the main read,” Chark said. “But I guess Bryce wanted to take that shot, so he threw it. … That’s the type of things we need to continue to do moving forward … get a big chunk play like that, that’s not on schedule, per se.”
Young said the coverage took him to Chark, but it was the kind of play the Panthers haven’t gotten a lot of the past few years — the kind that caught the eye of former Carolina wide receiver Steve Smith Sr. during Young’s pro day.
Young got to know the Hall of Fame candidate well during the offseason when Smith stopped by to watch practices. Young soaked in every word from the player he calls “a legend,” another on-target move.
“Every opportunity I get to pick his brain, hear his opinion about stuff, tell me how he feels, whether that’s stuff that’s about me and super applicable or just other stuff,” Young said.
The only notable concern about Young before the draft was his size (5-foot-10, 204 pounds). Can he make throws over huge NFL defensive lines? Can he take the pounding?
Although some of those questions won’t be answered until he’s in a game, his size wasn’t mentioned in interviews until he had a rare pass batted down at the line in Tuesday’s practice and again on Wednesday.
But Reich felt it was no big deal.
“I actually thought we’d see a whole lot more balls batted down since we’re not going live and we’re telling them not to hit the quarterback,” Reich said. “I didn’t think much about it.”
Neither did Young after a few moments of self-evaluation that is part of his DNA, which teammates believe will become contagious.
“We all back him, we’re all behind him,” Jackson said. “He’s been overwhelmed with people in his face a long time. We’re just rolling with him now.”