CHARLOTTE, N.C. — It was 5 p.m. Friday and Bryce Young finally finished with the fanfare, from his arrival at Bank of America Stadium in front of a large and boisterous crowd to the banging of the “Keep Pounding’’ drum to the hugs and handshakes with seemingly everyone associated with the Carolina Panthers.
The blue suit and collared white shirt he’d worn since leaving the NFL draft in Kansas City early that morning had been replaced by a Panthers’ T-shirt and casual slacks.
The first pick of the 2023 draft, who seemed almost embarrassed by the attention, was ready to talk football.
So he stopped by the second-floor office of head coach Frank Reich, kicked back in a chair and for about thirty minutes opened up in a way he hadn’t fully shown during Carolina’s lengthy vetting of the former Alabama quarterback.
“Talking a little bit about a vision for the offense, a vision for this team,’’ Reich recalled. “Just talking back and forth. It was pretty cool.’’
This is the Young who prompted general manager Scott Fitterer to say two months ago at the NFL combine: “He’s just, like, chill.’’
This is the Young who Carolina owner David Tepper got to know over dinner the night before Alabama’s pro day, the one he predicted Thursday night will win his team “Super Bowls.’’
🎉 WELCOME 🎉 pic.twitter.com/bTkzm3EwxO
— Carolina Panthers (@Panthers) April 28, 2023
“Today was more about getting ready,’’ Fitterer said of the 2021 Heisman Trophy winner. “He’s turning the page now. He’s business now.’’
Young understands the responsibility and fanfare that comes with being the top pick, but in the same breath acknowledges that “doesn’t entitle me to anything.’’
Where he’s most comfortable is on the football field and in the meeting room, preparing for the next steps in proving himself.
“I am obviously learning now the ins and outs of it,” Young said, “but I have been able to talk to everyone and to hear their philosophy and I feel like it is an amazing opportunity for me to just to learn a lot, to be able to grow and I am super excited.’’
He knows that’s where he’ll ultimately earn the respect of his new teammates and the league, as he aims to prove the debate about being undersized at 5-foot-10, 204 pounds will be a non-issue, like he has at every level he’s played.
“Listen, this guy has been on a mission his whole life to become the player that he is,’’ Reich said. “But in this business, as he has learned, because he has always been at the highest level, it’s part of it, you have to play that role.’’
Playing that role at the highest level has always been Young’s goal, his dad Craig noted.
He reminded that’s why Young went to Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana, California, one of the top prep football schools in the country, and then to college powerhouse Alabama.
“It always felt like to me [his height] was like an easy, almost like a lazy kind of narrative,’’ Craig said after his son’s introductory press conference. “And so I always felt like we should be more focused on his production.
“And the results were at the highest level.’’
The Panthers expect that to continue in the NFL. That’s why they traded four draft picks and top wide receiver DJ Moore to the Chicago Bears to move from No. 9 to No. 1. That’s why they spent the offseason and draft adding players who will make the offense as talented and complete as possible to give Young a chance to succeed.
Second-round pick Jonathan Mingo, a wide receiver out of Ole Miss the team fell in love with during his pre-draft visit, is a good example. Mingo’s ability to catch passes in tight traffic and block was a good fit for a team that wants to do everything it can to reduce the pressure on Young to carry the load from the offset.
“We just see [Mingo] as a really good scheme fit,’’ Reich said. “We run a lot of shallows, crosses, we want to get the ball vertical. He has been very effective there.
“When a guy has elite ball skills and you’ve got a super accurate passer like we do, that is just a really good combination. Just get it near him. He has got strong hands to the ball and he will be a great target for Bryce.’’
Mingo, having played in the SEC against Young, already respects what his new quarterback can do.
“He’s a game-changer,’’ Mingo said, reminding he lost to Young three years in a row. “One thing about Bryce, he doesn’t make mistakes. He’s very poised. He doesn’t get rattled. He takes each game play by play, takes his time.
“He’s a smart kid.’’
Florida State safety/nickel back Jammie Robinson, selected in the fifth round by Carolina, agreed.
“He’s not the biggest, but guess what? He’s a dog,’’ said Robinson, who played in the SEC at South Carolina in 2020 when Young was a freshman at Alabama. “You know what I’m saying? And if you’re a dog, the dog is going to last.’’
Young has fit that mold since the first time his dad put him at the position as a six- or seven-year-old in the YMCA league.
“There was a running back who was faster than him,’’ Craig said. “It was either, ‘You’re going to be a backup running back or I think we have a quarterback position open.’
“And so he was like, ‘I’ll try it.’ And literally the first time he dropped back, he eluded a rush, threw off balance and completed a pass. And then it was, ‘Maybe we have something here.’’’
Bryce said: “The big focus that we’ve always had is putting our energy in what we can control. Whether it’s expectations or circumstances, people’s thoughts and opinions. That stuff, that’s out of my control.
“That’s the beauty of sports. People get to have opinions. You get to have that pressure, there gets to be stakes. I’m grateful for that and I don’t shy away from it. I embrace it.”
Reich thinks the Panthers have something not only in Young, but in the entire staff and team that’s been put together since he was hired in late January. He compared it to the feeling he had in 1995 when the expansion Panthers were building from scratch with him as the grizzled veteran.
That team won an expansion-record seven games and reached the NFC Championship Game a year later, though Reich had been replaced three games into the first season by rookie Kerry Collins.
“This is kind of like a new lease on life for everybody,’’ Reich said. “Everybody knows we’re all on notice. Everybody knows this is a fresh start for everybody.’’
It’s a fresh start for Young, too. That’s why he was so anxious to kick back with Reich and get started on proving himself at yet another level after all the hoopla was over.
“You have to embrace that without burning too much energy, but he is a very focused individual,’’ Reich said. “I could tell at the end of the day when all of that stuff was done. Man, he opened up even in a different way and that was cool to see.’’