CHARLOTTE — Panthers offensive coordinator Thomas Brown knew Bryce Young was meticulous and thorough when he asked at his pro day dinner about his normal schedule, and after 20 minutes, Young wasn’t even to midweek. And they knew he was good at reading defenses and making quick decisions, as he digested a brand new playbook this offseason and learned it on the fly.
But when Brown watched Young practice Wednesday, he saw something different from the rookie quarterback.
“I think having an opportunity for every rep for him; like every player has the opportunity to grow and learn from your past experiences, whether it be good or bad,” Brown said. “But I would say honestly, yesterday probably felt like, and I told him this morning in the offensive unit meeting, that was probably his best day this fall when it comes to not just the execution — he’s been really good when it comes to understanding the offense and being a fast processor.
“But the energy, the enthusiasm, stepping into a huddle, calling and playing with conviction, coaching those guys up from a receiver standpoint, O-line up front, just kind of being the maestro, if you will, when it comes to an offense. It was the best job we did, in my opinion, so far this year, yesterday. So continue to build upon that and be better than today.”
By all appearances, he was able to do that in Thursday’s practice, a full participant for the second straight day after missing last week with an ankle injury. Young said he could tell after the Saints game his ankle was bothering him, but that he felt “great” now, and was hopefully on track to play this week after watching Andy Dalton start and play well in Seattle.
“Just being able to be in a different perspective and be able to learn as much as I can from his highlights,” Young said. “It was just a good perspective to have. And that’s just something that’s been a point of emphasis for us, as a team, obviously, not having started (well), we have to emphasize things, we have to improve the urgency, control, making sure we’re executing. And that starts in a walk-through; it starts in practice. So that’s really just been a point of emphasis for everyone.
“And as you know, as a quarterback and as a leader, I have to go in and try to lead just like everyone else is. So I’m just trying to do my part in that. And I feel like, as a whole, we’ve improved in that, but we have to keep doing it.”
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While Young was standing on the sidelines last week, he watched Dalton lead the Panthers to their most efficient passing day of the season. Not only did the backup quarterback throw for 361 yards and two touchdowns (eclipsing Young’s two-game total), but he also moved the ball downfield. Dalton averaged 6.2 yards per pass attempt (Young was at 4.2 in two games) and had five pass plays of 20 yards or more. (Young had one in two games.)
Panthers head coach Frank Reich said earlier this week that was partly because of Dalton’s experience. (It was his 163rd game in the league, or 161 more than Young.) And it was also because Dalton asked for particular things in the game plan to accentuate his ability to throw the deep ball (career 7.1 yards per attempt, 7.6 last year with the Saints).
When Young was asked if there was a way to import some of that into his game as he develops as a passer, he said the weekly game-planning meetings were collaborative affairs, with a lot of talk about particular plays that suit many players’ strengths, not just the quarterbacks.
“It’s a discussion, we all talk about things, we all bring things to the table for a reason,” Young said. “We have these open conversations, dialogue, and, of course, there are some plays that just naturally know we all lean towards more.”
Dalton said the differences in their games and resumes led to certain differences, but he did think there could be some carryover.
“I mean, at the end of the day, the guy with the ball in hand has to be comfortable with what’s being called,” Dalton said. “So, it’s definitely something that we’ve talked about each week, based on the different defenses that we’re playing.
“It may start one way, and then there may be a tweak. This is how I feel, or this is how Bryce feels. So we change and tweak things week to week.”
Ostensibly, there’s some opportunity this week since the Vikings are 26th in the league in points allowed (27.3), 27th in yards allowed (382.3), and tied for 25th in passing yards allowed (261.7). Opposing teams have gone 80-of-105 passing against the Vikings, for 820 yards with seven touchdowns and one interception, for an opponent’s passer rating of 116.4. That is, in a couple of words, not great.
Then again, the Panthers haven’t exactly lit it up in the passing game so far, so the emphasis has been on improving, and developing Young and a playbook as they go.
Dalton agreed with Brown on the progress he’s seen from Young. There are no replacing game reps in his training, so Dalton thinks getting him back out there this week has been beneficial.
“I think for Bryce, especially once you get into the regular season and once you start playing games, the flow of the week, all that kind of stuff, it’s all new to him, right?” Dalton said. “So for him, he’s just trying to find his way. And there’s some things you don’t know that you don’t know, you know, and for him, I feel like he’s done a great job of taking ownership of what we’re doing, and that’s what you have to have at this position.
“So it was good to see him yesterday pass up in there and, you know, have that leadership.”
That kind of perspective is why Dalton’s here. It’s not just the games played; it’s the way he played them. When he was drafted by the Bengals in 2011, he immediately became their starter. He had the benefit of a high-end rookie receiver to grow with (fourth overall pick AJ Green, who was a consideration here before the Panthers took that Cam Newton guy), an established run game (1,000-yard rusher Cedric Benson), and a top-10 defense.
So his going 9-7 as a rookie is the exception. Whether it’s Peyton Manning’s league-high 28 picks and a 3-13 record or any of the other horror stories, most first-overall pick quarterbacks struggle to start with.
“I’ve talked to him about everything that you go through,” Dalton said. “You know, I was in the same boat. Before I got to the NFL, I never lost two games in a row in any sport in any part of my life. I would assume that for Bryce, it’s been the exact same way, especially coming from a program like Alabama, where if you lose a game, it’s kind of the end of the world.
“And so there’s things with it now that it’s like, OK, it’s a long season, and it’s early in his career, it’s just the beginning. You still kind of find your way to figure things out, and as much as we’d all love to have success overnight, you know, sometimes it’s not that way. You look at some of the best quarterbacks in this league, and you look at their rookie year and what they did to where they ended up. I mean, it’s a drastic difference.”
That’s also what the Panthers are hoping for from Young this week as they go through a slow start to what they hope will be a long journey together.
“I think you do have to process it and understand it for what it is,” Young said. “But, you know, at the end of the day, of course, obviously, it’s not the start we want. But it’s nothing we can change now. So, for me, I’ve said a lot, whether it’s good or bad, you have to figure out what’s next. And you have to be able to accept that and move on and try to be constructive with it.
“There’s no dwelling on it because, at the end of the day, that’s not going to accomplish anything. And, you know, we have to earn the right to win a game, we have to earn, earn everything. . . . We have to figure out how we can build and be better, and grow. But we have to turn the page and, especially in this league, you have to be constructive. You have to keep moving forward. So I think that’s really where my mindset and all of our mindsets are.”
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