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Bryce Young embraces mantra he showed in pre-draft process as Andy Dalton remains Panthers' starter in name

Panthers head coach Frank Reich (left) says Andy Dalton is the starting quarterback right now. Bryce Young, the first overall pick in the draft, figures to take that mantle sooner than later. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)
Panthers head coach Frank Reich (left) says Andy Dalton is the starting quarterback right now. Bryce Young, the first overall pick in the draft, figures to take that mantle sooner than later. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

Perhaps no one realized, at the moment, how apt the metaphor was.

Carolina Panthers leadership was hosting quarterback Bryce Young for dinner during the pre-draft process when offensive coordinator Thomas Brown posed a seemingly straightforward question.

“You finish Saturday night, you guys play a big game,” Brown said. “Take me through Sunday, through the next game.”

Brown expected a standard five-minute summary.

Young began with Sunday, before explaining his wakeup and meeting rhythm on Monday, and then clarifying which parts of the game plan he would study then and which on Tuesday, and then—

“We’re 17 minutes in and it’s Wednesday,” Brown laughed. “And I said, ‘Hey. Stop, dog. I’m good. I appreciate the detail.’”

The questions have changed and the job interview has evolved into a collegial partnership, but halfway through May, the Panthers are still asking the first overall pick of the 2023 NFL Draft to embrace the mindset he (over)detailed at dinner: one day at a time.

“It’s a day-by-day process,” Young said last weekend at minicamp. “We’ve talked a lot about that as a team.”

“From a day-to-day standpoint,” Brown echoed this week, “obviously Andy [Dalton]’s our starter right now. … But what’s today, Tuesday? Tomorrow’s another day. We’ll see what happens tomorrow.”

Before Panthers fans know it, Young will be under center.

‘Wow, that’s not normal for a rookie’

Rookie minicamp delivered the expected, if premature, hype.

Coaches and teammates lauded Young’s decision-making, accuracy and timing. They praised how the notoriously 5-foot-10 quarterback recited plays from memory, engineered a clean operation and found his targets.

The 2021 Heisman Trophy winner who started 27 games at Alabama and won 23 says he’s primarily concerned with developing comfort in the system, absorbing coaching and committing verbiage to memory. But Panthers practice film study reviews showed more than Young’s mechanics and release.

“You watch the film back and you see how he manipulates zone defenders with his eyes and subtle arm twitches to open up a huge window,” one source told Yahoo Sports on condition of anonymity. “And you’re like, ‘Wow, that’s not normal for a rookie and really advanced.’”

Less flashy but as impressive to Panthers brass was Young avoiding fumbled snaps despite the transition from playing out of the shotgun in college to lining up under center.

Rookie minicamp, by definition, breeds growing pains.

Panthers senior assistant Jim Caldwell, whose NFL coaching résumé includes seven years as a head coach and two more at offensive coordinator, told Brown this was the first time he remembered a rookie minicamp without balls on the ground — "which is a huge deal,” Caldwell said.

Another huge deal awaits.

Because with nearly four months remaining until the Panthers begin their regular-season slate against the Atlanta Falcons, the 12-year veteran Dalton remains their starter in name.

Still, even cautious coaches can’t help but tip what’s imminent and obvious.

When will Panthers name Bryce Young their starter?

Panthers head coach and play-caller Frank Reich said Dalton will begin offseason activities this week as the club’s first-team quarterback.

Young will work with the second team.

And yet …

“Bryce is going to get a lot of reps — likely even get a few more than Andy as the new guy,” Reich said. “We’ll focus on getting Bryce, as the younger player, as many reps as he can.”

Brown then said “Andy’s our starter right now” but “Bryce is getting a lot of reps with the ones [first team] and twos [second].”

Dalton’s nine years quarterbacking the Cincinnati Bengals give the Panthers an easy explanation for why he doesn’t need as many foundational snaps at practice; his three years since spending a season each with the Dallas Cowboys, Chicago Bears and New Orleans Saints offer an easy excuse for why the player whom Reich described as a “savvy veteran” will be just fine adjusting to a new scheme.

Young will welcome the chance to learn.

“Feeling out how routes are supposed to be, how things are supposed to be read, understanding the system,” he said. “I’m learning the system and watching film and seeing how things operate and learning so much from the coaches. I want to do everything that they ask of me. I want my signature to be executing the plays, whatever the coaches call.”

How soon will they call for the Panthers’ de facto starter to also assume the mantle as starter in name? Before Week 1, as long as he’s healthy, undoubtedly. By training camp, too, is a fair guess.

As for the next few weeks of offseason practice? The plan remains a mystery but also is already in motion. As long as Young gets the reps, his teammates will understand his position. And the more he gets reps, the more ready he’ll be to officially earn his NFL starting role.

“When he’s ready, when it’s best for the team,” Reich said. “That’s when we’ll look to make that transition.”