CHARLOTTE — If you'll pardon a little bit of hippie talk at the top of the 'Bag, this weekend reminded me, among other things, of the power of the collective experience.
I'm old enough that I don't often do things that create even the slightest degree of discomfort. I mean, if it involves leaving the controlled environment of my own house (or even certain rooms of it if the wife has been messing with the thermostat), that's sometimes too much. Traffic is a deterrent when you become an old. Weather is a thing you pay more attention to with every passing trip around the sun. But I've also had the skies open up while Gary Clark Jr. (the blues guitarist, not the son of the former Washington wide receiver) played a blistering "Come Together" at the outdoor amphitheater here as an encore, and no one moved an inch because they were fully in the moment.
When you see more than 7,000 people show up last Thursday night when it's raining like stink to hear the announcement of a thing that we all kind of knew was coming anyway, and what a scene it turned into at Bank of America Stadium, you realize how cool the moment was.
When Nicole Tepper came back inside to the draft room after going out for the announcement, her three-word reply was: "It was amazing." When Jake Delhomme was asked about the crowd by people who were indoors and dry, he said, "I couldn't believe that many people stood out there to watch it. They were into it."
And then when another 1,000 or so showed up at 11:30 the next morning for a pep rally to welcome Bryce Young to Bank of America Stadium, I mean, that's in the middle of a work day or school day.
If you were there, salute. If you weren't there, it will be understood if not totally acceptable to claim you were in future years because it was a neat moment to be a part of. The NFL is great at selling two things — merchandise and hope. Drafts are especially good for both businesses.
My guess is that sense of optimism will be a theme in this 'Bag because if there's ever a time for it, it's when everyone is undefeated and has shiny new stuff. Of course, I'm sure there are some old grouches who would prefer all you hippies to get off his lawn. Signed, (occasional) old grouch.
Wow, what a weekend! What a great draft again; major love to our GM Scott Fitterer and our coaching staff! I will admit I am always hopeful before our season starts, but I am REALLY hopeful and excited for this upcoming season! I think we again got some great guys in free agency and this weekend from the actual draft and the guys we picked up after the official draft was over Saturday, and I can't wait to see it all come together in September.
I read all the opinions and the SI article calling him "the outlier" and have been nervous about Bryce's height, like a lot of our fanbase. But the more I read about, listen to interviews of Bryce, and read what our coaches have said about him, I am very on board with our new quarterback. I am most impressed with Bryce's faith and can't help but think about a certain WR (Cooper Kupp) who was not supposed to be able to have the season he had in 2021-22. I don't know if Bryce will be anything like that, especially in his first season, but I am very excited to see what this young man can do. I know it is early, but my question is do you feel like our guys are supportive and excited? Are they in on Bryce despite him being the "the outlier"? Thanks for all you do, Darin. — Alyson, Wake Forest, NC
See what I mean? Also, Alyson was once named FOTM for the simple act of being in a good mood, so this shouldn't come as a surprise.
The concerns about Bryce Young's size are legitimate. I mean, he's not tall (source, my two eyes). But that's also the only real concern. He's done the thing, and he's good at it, and they didn't break him into a million pieces in the SEC. Nothing's a sure thing. Cam Newton came from another planet to the NFL, was once hit by a literal truck and was laying there smiling when the paramedics arrived, and kept playing until the physical toll became too much for him. And he's giant. Once normal-sized human Drew Brees got over that one shoulder thing, he played for another 15 years. Go figure.
But the teammates who have interacted with Young so far have all reported positive experiences. Which also makes sense. Bryce appears to be good people and appears to have been raised right. My pastors like to tell a story about how an elementary school teacher once told them they could spot church kids, not for any religious reasons, but because of the way they behaved around and interacted with others. They can sit still and listen for an hour, for one. But they also know how to talk to adults and how to interact as part of a community. Now, let me be clear, you don't have to be a church kid to be a good kid, and I've known plenty of lousy ones who were. But it appears, based on what we have gathered about Bryce so far, that he's a mature and responsible human being who also happens to be quite good at playing ball. That's a good start. People like being around people like that.
Why did y'all not go for CJ? — Zachariah, Kingsport, TN
I'm assuming you're talking about Stroud, but I'll trade economy of language for clarity of thought sometimes.
I mean, they didn't go for BJ (Ojulari) or KJ (Henry) either, and after trading one DJ (Moore), they brought in two more this offseason (Chark and Johnson). Maybe the presence of CJ Henderson and C.J. Saunders caused them to avoid adding to the letter-based confusion. (I have always been partial to CJ Cregg, for reasons solely tied to professional qualifications.)
Seriously, it wasn't so much an anti-Stroud thing as a pro-Young call.
Stroud is also quite good at throwing footballs, and if he's properly supported with talent the way he was at Ohio State, he should continue to play well. Whether that happens in Houston is anyone's guess, but that ain't my grass to mow.
They had great meetings with him and liked him a great deal (one member of the party in particular, which we'll clarify in our annual behind-the-scenes draft story, which is coming soon).
Darin, as a Panthers fan from the very beginning, I have been through the ups and downs (more downs). For some reason, it feels different this year. With the owner and GM finding their stride and the new head coach, it just seems like we might be on to something here. I never felt that way with the previous head coach (not being ugly). While I'm still not completely sold on Bryce Young (durability-wise), it seems like we have a team that can challenge the NFC South. Even the coaching staff seems extremely well thought out. The only downfall being the ability of the roster to convert to the 3-4 defense. What do you say? Can we compete this year? — Dan, Surfside Beach, SC
This coaching staff should inspire some positive vibes at the moment. Just being around minicamp last week, there was certainly a different air about things. Most of that has to do with how experienced they are. When your staff has over 200 years of NFL coaching experience and another 75 as players in the league, that starts to show up on a daily basis. Having elders like Jim Caldwell and Dom Capers in the building is like dropping a competency bomb on the place.
But (and there's always a but, even during draft week), Dan has also identified one of the biggest question marks. How this defense responds this year will determine a lot.
If you're going to run a 3-4 well, you need linemen who are willing to chew up space and are able to. They went out in free agency and signed them in bulk. But more importantly, you need to have a pair of outside linebackers who can make plays. If you're an old, think about the difference in having Lamar Lathon in 1995 to Lamar Lathon and Kevin Greene in 1996. When you have a pair of what football guys sometimes call "war daddies" (football guys have the best sayings), they become a force multiplier. When you have one, you can still be OK, but it's harder to be great.
Right now, the Panthers have one known in Brian Burns, and he's coming off a recent ankle surgery (though he's expected to recover by training camp). Otherwise, they're projecting a little.
Reich said after the draft that he's confident they have a second starter among the committee which includes third-rounder DJ Johnson, Marquis Haynes Sr., Yetur Gross-Matos, and Amaré Barno. Reich is the hopeful sort, anyway. But there's clearly not a Kevin Greene among them. (Kevin Greene is in the Hall of Fame, so that's not really an insult).
They have some other talented parts on defense. Keeping Shaq Thompson was a big deal. The secondary is full of high picks who can play, and they have two smart veteran safeties in Xavier Woods and Vonn Bell. There's a lot to like about the potential, but it's a proposition based more on hope than evidence. Defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero and Capers have earned some benefit of the doubt; now they have to turn these mix-and-match ingredients into a meal.
If the defense comes together, this team has a chance. This is still the NFC South, and nothing that happened over the weekend separated anyone else in this division from the pack.
I LOVE our draft picks. Every single pick seemed to be extremely calculated. I listened to all of our guys' initial addresses to the media, and I see the mentalities are similar. It's apparent what the new coaching staff is looking for in building this team. I know bulking up the O-line and pass rushers will always help in the long run, as this is a grueling league for the hog mollies. So, my question for you, is will we see Jonathan Mingo and Chandler Zavala make impacts on this roster in their rookie seasons? I love to hear your hot take, one way or the other. Please don't say, "we'll see." :) — Chase, Greensboro, NC
See, that's a problem, Chase, because the only intellectually honest answer to any draft-related question is "We'll see." And I made a vow when I took this job to only be intellectually honest. That's what you deserve because you're a nice person (though you put a stupid little face on the end of your question).
Mingo is big, fast, and a playmaker. He comes 89-approved, and that counts for something. Steve Smith is not the kind to just blindly endorse players without accountability (Mel Kiper Jr. still hasn't retired, despite saying that he would if Jimmy Clausen wasn't a successful quarterback after eight years in the league. That was in 2010. It didn't take nearly that long.)
Mingo's walking into a competitive room all of a sudden. There are 11 receivers on the roster and large amount of possibilities of how to use them in combination. An 11-personnel grouping (one tight end, one back) with Adam Thielen in the slot and DJ Chark clearing it out deep, and Laviska Shenault Jr. in jet motion could create some matchup issues (I am as curious about how they'll use Shenault as perhaps any player on the roster). Mingo and Terrace Marshall Jr. have size and big-play ability. Shi Smith had a good camp last year before fading. Preston Williams and Derek Wright and C.J. Saunders all have moments in practice when you see why coaches keep them around. And Damiere Byrd is going to bring special teams value, even if he's not returning.
There's also an inventory control element, as Thielen is the only one on the roster under contract beyond 2024, and he's 32 now. You don't want all the players at a position hitting free agency at the same time, so staggering players like Marshall and Mingo is just good roster management.
(Also, he gives me a chance to make jokes like "The Mingo ate my baby" and "Mingo only pawn in game of life." That's worth something, if only to me.)
Zavala has a chance to start in the opener, if only because they don't know when Austin Corbett will be ready after tearing his ACL in the finale. He's a mauler, which he proved when he was playing next to Ikem Ekwonu in college. You also have to add offensive linemen to the mix every year to keep that room well-stocked. You're not always going to be as lucky with injuries as they were last year when they only used two different starting lineups in 17 games. Also, seeing James Campen's reaction to his selection was instructive. It might have involved a profanity, but the happy kind. If there's another coach on this roster who has earned a certain benefit of the doubt, it's Campen. He knows of what he speaks, even if you have to bleep it out sometimes.
I'm excited about this season, but how do you think the O-Line is going to be this year? We need at least four or five more going into the season. Are there plans to bring some guys in after the draft? — Todd, Alexandria, VA
It ought to be pretty good. They have all five starters back, and those cats were getting it done in the back half of last year.
Now, when you're running it 40 times a game (which will not likely remain the case), it's easier for them to look good. But they only allowed 17 sacks in the last 11, which makes Bryce Young very happy. Again, running 40 times a game kept that number down, but the point stands, this is a good group that could improve with time. Taylor Moton and Bradley Bozeman are the old starters, and they're all of 28.
You have to continue to backfill there, as just mentioned. I wouldn't be surprised to see a veteran tackle roll in here to back up Ekwonu and Moton. And they're still looking around at options. There are a few out there, including some familiar ones.
I still like the vibes from this new organization. I would have drafted QB differently, but I am not quibbling. I hope he stays safe and lasts for 10-12 years of peace and tranquility. My question is simply are we going to cover the void at CB and find a good backup OT? Other than that, I am very optimistic this year. NFC South can be ours for a while, hopefully with maybe two years in a row of being good!
Almost forgot to mention just how much I enjoyed seeing fellow alumni Bumper Pool from Arkansas picked up as a UDFA. Also, recovery from hernia surgery early Thursday sure was helped by having the draft. Again, we have an excellent management team and coaching staff moving forward. — Stephen, Columbia, SC
See, I like this question because it shows that people can disagree about policy and come together over philosophy. Let it be so. This is why Stephen, also a former FOTM, is always welcome here. Also, glad you're recovering well. Having a sporting event on TV is always a good distraction when you're laid up.
As far as the cornerback situation, I'm maybe not as freaked out about it as other people are.
Jaycee Horn is as good as they get. Donte Jackson is recovering well and should be ready by camp, and he's actually adding some size with his constant time in the weight room. And CJ Henderson's a solid third. He has some moments of struggle, but he's also big and physical and can make plays. As a third option, he's better than many.
Is that position a little thin? It is. But you can't fix everything every offseason. Backup tackles are easier to find. (Also, I didn't know Stephen was an Arkansas guy. WPS. I still need me one of those plastic pig hats.)
Now that Bryce Young is officially coming to the Panthers, when do we know his jersey number? I will be bringing my 6-year-old son to Sec 533 more often this season, and he needs a Bryce Young jersey. It should be interesting to see if Matt Corral gives up his #9 and goes back to #2. Based on his tweet this weekend I don't know what Matt is going to do. I hope he plays hard, is a good teammate, and competes. We need to develop more than one QB anyway. Hope Bryce and Matt can help each other. Get your popcorn ready! Yes, this is what I am concerned about at the moment. Die Hard fan! #KeepPounding — Jason, Asheville, NC
Yep, Bryce is going to be 9 again, as we reported exclusively at Panthers.com this morning.
I think this has a chance to be a good situation for Corral. All the things that are good for Young (a deep and knowledgeable staff of coaches, a smart veteran in the room in Andy Dalton, a strong line, and an improving cast of skill players) are good for Corral too.
He's recovered well from last year's foot injury and is practicing again, which is ahead of what they thought his schedule might be. I keep thinking back to RG3 and Kirk Cousins. Keep young players around; keep getting them both ready because you might need more than one. And even if one of them ends up somewhere else, he'll be better off for being here. If you are a quarterback and you have daily access to Jim Caldwell, that's a chance to learn at a graduate level. You should take it. Don't ask me; ask Peyton Manning.
Well, Darin, the draft is over, and we have our new QB1, the highly anticipated Bryce Young! I have to say in all honesty, that I was a CJ Stroud guy - but with that admission, I'm truly excited about having Bryce on the team. I actually don't think we could've gone wrong with either one. OK, down to it - at Alabama, Bryce wore jersey #9. We, however, already have a QB on the roster wearing #9, Matt Corral. (Am I the first one this week with a Matt Corral reference?) Do you think Bryce is going to try to "buy out" Matt's #9, or will he just select a new number and move on? These things always intrigue me for some reason, and I'm curious what the going rate might turn out to be if Bryce decides to try to work a deal with Matt. Not really sure why I care, but I do.
And speaking of shirts, in reply to my letter in the April 14th Mailbag, you mentioned sending me a T-shirt. Now, I never got a shirt, but I'm certainly not mad at you - us being such close pen pals and all. Maybe I misunderstood, and that was just a tongue-in-cheek offer. If so, please forgive my questioning of your t-shirt comment. A t-shirt is certainly not worth breaking up such an important relationship as ours. You can count on me to be one of your biggest fans here at the Mailbag for as long as you're cranking it out! And LET'S GO #9, regardless of who's wearing it! #KeepPounding — Jeff, Concord, NC
Many times, when jersey numbers get swapped, there is an exchange of goods or currency. Many of those times (but not every time), the payoff happens in a timely fashion, and everyone leaves the transaction with a degree of satisfaction.
But this one took neither cash or arm-twisting. Corral wanted to be 2 last year, but some guy named DJ Moore had dibs on it. So 9 was a rental for him anyway. There's still some jersey number swapping going on (stay tuned to Panthers.com for all the latest), but now that we know What Young and the rookies are wearing, people can start making appropriate plans.
Sorry, I've been a little held up on getting shirts out to our FsOTM lately (Chris, who wrote politely, despite being just a month out, this goes for you too). I'm a little behind, and for that, I apologize. See, eight weeks ago, our boss left, and the Panthers traded for the first pick on the same day. So it's been a little busy around the office. A thousand pardons. If you're not suited up by Flag Day, come find me.
Turns out the rain worked in my favor, and I didn't have to work late on Day 1 or 2 of the draft. Wife is 38 weeks pregnant, though, so we enjoyed the fanfare from the couch. What I did notice, though is that we will be playing both the Colts and the Texans at the Bank this year so I know where the three of us (me, the wife and the baby not me, the wife, and you) will be for those two games. Which leads me to my question, when's the schedule release? Any hints on the theme this year? — John, Matthews, NC
Whoa, life is good. An anticipatory mazel tov to the John from Matthewses, and we'll make the entire family the Friends Of The Mailbag this week in honor of the special delivery (and by the time the baby is walking, you should have your shirts).
Schedule release is scheduled for May 11. The fact the announcement of an announcement is a thing continues to astound me, but my mortgage and children's health insurance are grateful for the level of interest.
No hints on the video since I am not involved in that production, but since you guys are expecting, I'll be taking these Huggies and whatever cash you got.
Let's go lightning round, brought to you by the patron saint of the lightning round Jeff from Fuquay-Varina, to close it out this week.
I'm tired of hearing, "He is too small" or "Someone his size will not last long." Rubbish! What about the 21-year career of Doug Flutie? More than an admirable career from a man who played at Young's height and projected weight. I'm just saying there is a true precedent for 5-10 not only being a leader of men but a true champ. So I say the haters just need to chillax. Now to my real question. If the great minds gave us Flutie Flakes, what Carolina food flows with the name Young? Keep Pounding! — Ed, Durham, NC
Duh. Bryce Crispy Treats.
Also, chillax is not a word. Don't say that anymore please.
After the draft and the signing of several UDFAs, the team still has several spots open for camp. Do you think they'll target any veteran free agents, or will they use these spots for potential tryout players? — Kevin, Matthews, NC
Maybe some of both. Don't forget the XFL and USFL. Some of those guys will end up on rosters. If you can carry 90, it makes sense to keep churning the bottom five just to see what's out there.
Tell me about these new black helmets! Will the Panthers be wearing them this season? — LeJane, Wahiawa, HI
The Panthers will be bringing back the black helmets since they were such a hit last year. In fact, they've been approved by the league to wear them up to three times this season. We'll keep you posted on the whens and the wheres here at Panthers.com, so stay tuned.
The first round of the draft is officially in the books. And it's Bryce Young! I'm really happy about that, but now that the first round is in, it's time to look forward. The 2024 draft! Who do you think the Panthers will draft in the second round next year? I don't know many draft prospects next year, so any insight you could give would be greatly appreciated. — Henry, Toledo, OH
I hate you, Henry. (Actually, I don't, that's just a thing I say to people I'm actually quite fond of when they do things to annoy me and/or complicate my life.)
Too soon. One draft at a time. In fact, I need a little break after that one. So until we 'Bag again, friends.