CHARLOTTE — Once upon a time, the Panthers had a tight ends coach named Don Breaux, a long-time Joe Gibbs assistant who grew up in Louisiana and had the kind of accent that would have allowed him to speak fluent Jake Delhomme had they worked together.
Don would shuffle out to football practice on fall days like today, glasses down over the end of his nose so he could see the world around him and also his play sheet, put his arms out to his sides, smile and say in his distinctive bayou drawl, "This is why people retire to the Carolinas." The S in "this" got dragged out long enough to get a delay of game penalty, and the I sounds in "retire" and "Carolinas" were longer than any pass Wesley Walls ever caught. If you heard it once, you'd remember it forever, in part because he said it a lot. He was living the daily affirmation of gratitude lifestyle before it was cool.
I think about Don Breaux a lot these days. He spent a lifetime in football, enough to know all these seasons are long ones, and sometimes you have to look around you and appreciate what's happening, regardless of the current circumstance at work.
The Panthers are 0-4 at the moment, just like they were in 1995 before Breaux and Dom Capers and the rest of that staff convinced a thrown-together new team that something was possible here. This isn't an expansion team, but there is a lot of new going on, and the perhaps inevitable consequence is that things don't come together as quickly as people might like.
But this is not a parable about the '95 Panthers dropping their first five and finishing 7-9 with a flourish. Nor is it a story about Frank Reich's 2018 Colts, who turned a 1-5 start into a 10-6 record and eventually a playoff win.
The current Panthers are not in a place where that's germane because, as you may have noticed, things aren't great at the moment. But it's worth remembering sometimes that it's a moment. The Panthers could have done certain things for more temporal success, but after five years of chasing patches and rentals at quarterback and hoping for the best but not getting it, they made a conscious choice to change directions. They might not be very far along the path to the destination, but at least it's a clear direction.
It's not much. At 0-4, it's about all I can offer. Thus, let's enjoy this picture of Don Breaux hanging on the sidelines with Jim Skipper, think of better days, and also look outside and realize not everything is as bad as this mail might otherwise suggest.
Hi Darin, I'm a big supporter of Bryce Young, and I know this being his rookie year, we can't expect much. But I've been very disappointed with the offensive play calls. They appear to have no more imagination than the previous coaching staff. We were supposed to use the tight ends more, but they've disappeared both in catching passes and blocking. And our defense is as porous as it was last year. I don't understand - we brought in coaches with lots of experience, but they can't put a good football game together. What are your thoughts, Darin? — Linda, Charlotte
We have a diverse readership here at the Mailbag, but most weeks, it's mostly dudes. This week was different, in a noticeable way.
Linda, as with most women whom we trust for perspective and discernment, at least offers the correct preamble. Bryce is a rookie. Most rookies struggle. (I need a hot key for "Peyton Manning went 3-13 and led the league with 28 picks the year he was the first overall pick" to save myself some time.)
When Reich built this staff, he got a lot of credit for assembling an all-star team of coaches. And it was deserved. There are a lot of smart dudes in that room. But there are a lot of them. The United Nations is a good idea, but without interpreters, nothing's getting done in there. My working thesis is that one of the natural outgrowths of Reich's "diversity of thought" is that it takes a minute to turn that into "cohesiveness of thought." And when results don't come quickly, the natural tendency is for everyone to do more, not less. And sometimes doing more isn't always helpful.
My suspicion is that there will come a time when Reich and his Philadelphia influences, and Thomas Brown and his Sean McVay Rams influences, and Josh McCown's vision and energy, and Jim Caldwell's wisdom earned over the years, and Duce Staley's passion and energy, and James Campen's toughness, and Shawn Jefferson's willingness to put on a helmet and bang heads if need be will come together and create a coherent whole.
Clearly, they're not there yet.
But from talking to people involved in the process, they're clearly working to find the stuff that works, do more of that, and find the stuff that doesn't, and do less of that. Building game plans from so many disparate sources, and it's going to take time to get all those smart people on the same page.
Apparently, more than four weeks.
Hi Darin, the TV commentators keep suggesting that the Panthers should be less predictable in their offense and mix up what they do on first down, as well as suggesting that more downfield throws are needed to keep defenders honest and hopefully open up the run game. There must be a reason the Panthers aren't doing this (not counting the downfield throws Dalton threw in Seattle). Can you shed more light on this? — Deirdre, Tega Cay, SC
God love my brethren in the television industry, but if they're seeing predictability, they're better at it than me. The Panthers haven't done a lot consistently in the first four games, so I'm not sure what the pattern is.
I do think they've recognized that every game can't be dink-and-dunk if they hope to run.
Young's yards per pass attempt (one of my pet stats because it can show intent as well as effectiveness) has gone up each week — from an anemic 3.8 against the Falcons, to a meager 4.6 against the Saints, to a less-insulting-adjective 6.4 against the Vikings. There were more downfield throws last week, though they did throw a lot of quick-game stuff to try to take advantage of a not-great Vikings pass defense.
And after running well at Atlanta (154 yards was more than respectable) with 32 attempts, they proceeded to run it 19 and 14 times before course-correcting for 31 attempts last week.
I think there's some work to be done getting the run game on the same page. (The Eagles run it differently than the Rams run it, and both differently than the Panthers did a year ago.) And we'll see what the next few weeks bring in that regard.
Why wasn't a penalty called when the Vikings player ran into and took down Bryce Young? I know the whistle blew, so why was that player not penalized for roughing the passer? And why did the Panthers just stand there and let their QB get shoved to the ground? It seems wrong! — Ann, Charlotte
We've had plenty of ladies in the Mailbag this week already, but only Ann wants to fight. I'm not sure how to feel about this.
Lots of people wondered the same thing. Looking back at the tape, it was a very bang-bang play. And if Jordan Hicks had been called, it was close enough to the line that there might not have been many complaints. Such is the case with judgment calls.
Chandler Zavala was nearest but still had his back to the play, engaged with a defender when Young was on the ground. Bradley Bozeman laid eyes on it first and stepped that way, but referee Tra Blake was already between him and Hicks, so Bozeman reached down to pick up Young instead.
Reich explained his perspective on Monday, saying, first and foremost, he wants Young to drill the ball into the ground on the whistle to keep from giving a defender the impression the play is live and exposing himself to peril.
"What we talked to Bryce about is, and now that this has happened to him once, as a quarterback, when you catch a ball and a play is blown dead, you should immediately throw the ball down so that the defense knows it's not live," Reich said. "You know the explanation that the official gave me was there was some ambiguity in it; it wasn't super flagrant."
Asked if he'd have preferred a more aggressive response, Reich said: "I'm not sure anybody really saw what happened. So, listen, there's no doubt in my mind that our guys are going to protect each other.
So, I think looking at it today, I don't think it was in that mode. ... Since it wasn't overly flagrant."
There's also probably a cooler-heads-prevail notion of not turning a third-and-3 at the 3 that became a third-and-8 at the 8 into a third-and-23 at the 23 in case the refs decided to flag a retaliator instead of the instigator. This one is probably a no-harm/no-foul, but I have a suspicion that enough people have realized it that the next Jordan Hicks might find himself in a less lonely position.
And after thinking about it, I am choosing not to be intimidated by but admire Ann's Mama Bear spirit. She's ready to throw down on Bryce's behalf. I dig that. Don't mess with Ann. And if that's not cause for making her this week's Friend Of The Mailbag and getting the appropriate honorarium on the way to her soon, I don't know what is. Consider it a peace offering, Ann.
Beautiful Sunday for football. Positivity here. I've sat through the Jimmy Clausen and Chris Weinke years, but I can definitely see a QB1 in Young. My two questions for the week. Why does it seem to not be any called play action plays/roll out the pocket type plays to give those big plays time for Young? Based on coach Reich's past offenses, tight ends feature in the passing game, but somehow we haven't got much involvement past the first game. No offense to Hayden Hurst, he is no Greg Olsen, but he is a good option for catches. Tommy Tremble seems promising. Tight ends are a great security blanket, but we seem to have no options for them. On to Detroit and continued progress!_ — Kevin, Middletown, DE
I think there will probably be more versions of "I think they want to do that in theory but haven't done it in practice" answers than I could possibly type this week.
I'm going to give the Hayden Hurst era a little more time before I write it off. Certainly more than a month. He's been a reliable pass-catcher, and they know that, too.
I'm also curious to see if the looming return of Stephen Sullivan adds anything to the mix. Sullivan's got a basketball body and the kind of athletic potential to make coaches dream of ways to get him the ball. Granted, this has all been true the last three years, but he's coming back soon, and we'll see if they get some kinks ironed out on offense by then.
Darin, I arrived in Durham, NC, in 1978 from the land of Redlegs (thanks for the Joey Votto reference last week) and Buckeyes. Coming off a National Championship run, Duke hired a young man to lead their men's basketball program. As I recall, he was fresh out of the Army or something like that. This coach insisted that his team play man-to-man defense and move the ball on offense. In his first season, his record did not look good, and fans were calling for his head. But he was building something, and that "something" prevailed. It just took time and patience. I can watch and wait to see how the Panthers grow and develop under all the new personnel and changes.
I'm a believer in team chemistry. What's your take on the chemistry in the Panthers locker room? Who are the leaders off the field? With Shaq Thompson injured, who's stepping up?
I genuinely enjoy your realistic view of all things. The Blue Devils and Buckeyes are off to a good start. The REDS are having one of their best seasons in a long time. A beach chair and my radio allow me the theater of the mind. (You know, this AM radio thing just might catch on.) Life is good. Take care. — Dale, Wrightsville Beach, NC
Must be something about clean living and gentle ocean breezes because Dale's all zenned out this week. I bow to your Buddha nature, Dale. And as someone who remembers Mike Krzyzewski coming to Durham, or AM radio, Dale is clearly a man of perspective that you only get with years of experience. So that matters. (Also, I can't watch the baseball playoffs yet. Too soon. The beloved Reds won 22 more games than the year before and weren't eliminated from the postseason until last Saturday, the penultimate day of the season. [Old people like words like penultimate.] They hooked me this year; I can't wait for spring training. Hope springs eternal, etc.)
As for leaders, there are cats who say things, and there are cats who do things. You need some of both. It was instructive that when they added a team captain (Shaq still is one; he's just in the athletic training room now), it was Frankie Luvu. Frankie Luvu is what you want in your football players. He's 100 mph on every play, sometimes to his own detriment. Frankie is all gas, no brake. But he's also smart and understands people are watching him now. Frankie is that guy.
Burns is a captain, and Houston is in his 13th year with four Pro Bowls. Williams isn't that far removed from packing boxes in an Amazon warehouse, so he's the grinder's grinder.
Then there's Brown.
Derrick carries an automatic gravity in that locker room, and not just because he's large. He busts his tail. He plays practically every snap. And he plays them at a high level. Derrick's not much of a talker, but make no mistake, guys in the locker room take cues from him. Even without a C on his jersey, he's a leader around here.
Hey Darin! In honor of the best week on the Federal Calendar being saved, I'm curious if there are any of the Fat Bears that you think are analogous with some of our big boys in the trenches. Having seen Bradley Bozeman in person, he definitely looks like he could hang with some of our favorite fur boulders without them being suspicious. — Nate, Grand Prairie, TX
There are few things on the internet (other than you, dear readers of the Mailbag) that I enjoy more than Fat Bear Week, which thanks to the government shutdown being averted, starts tomorrow.
Quick explainer: They've installed Bear Cams at Katmai National Park in Alaska. They show footage of bears. Bears are amazing. I want a bear.
But here's what bears do this time of year. They eat a boatload of fish, get super fat, and then sleep for a couple of months. Never mind wanting a bear, I think I want to be a bear.
The wizards at Katmai found a way to tap into this natural wonder and do the rare thing on the internet that makes everyone happy.
They created a bracket for you to vote for your favorite Fat Bear. What are the qualifications? Who cares. Just vote for the biggest, fattest bear that makes you happiest. Read their bios and marvel at the before-and-after pictures. But mostly, just let yourself get caught up in the Fat Bear-ness of it all.
Fat Bears will make you happy. Please, with my regards, enjoy it. (Also, one of the last good things left on Twitter is "A bear" which brings us the thoughts of a bear, such as this one, and this beauty. I am here for all non-Chicago bear-related content, though The Bear on Hulu is entertaining, but in more-intense-than-I'd-prefer-on-a-weeknight kind of way.)
As for the Bears themselves, the veteran Otis (who once ate 42 salmon in a day) is slowing down because he's missing some teeth now
. Don't sleep on 747, he's a little beat up, but he's a master technician and just massive (does that make him Taylor Moton?). 32 Chunk is huge, strong, and capable of shoveling down a lot of fish. 901 is amazing, and also a new mom. There are a lot of young bears in this year's field who intrigue me. I will be spending more time on Bears after work. I look forward to digging into this research.
To that point, Bozeman could absolutely be in this contest. So could Moton, who has a teddy bear spirit but can also rip your face off in the way that a bear can also. Austin Corbett, who is coming back soon, is like a trained bear in the circus. Not to give too much away, but the other day, I walked past him working out, and he was doing handstand push-ups while leaning against a wall. Suffice it to say, he's eager to get back.
But let's not lose sight of what's important in all this football talk.
Go vote for your favorite bears this week. You will not regret it. It will make you happy in a (Ursa) Major way.
Hello Darin, hope all is well well with you and your family. Years ago (dating my age) I met and had an intense conversation with John Robinson, who was the head coach of the older LA Rams at Kevin Greene's house when I was the cable guy. Long story short, Jim Boeke was my coach playing football for the Westminster Lions (he was the left guard who blew the block for the Dallas Cowboys to lose the championship back in the day). They all said the same thing: football is won in the trenches and turnover battle. That being said, after being patient over the first four games, I do believe our boys still stand a chance to make the playoffs if they stop beating themselves. The defense is awesome, the special teams are good, and we all know what the problem is. That being said, Keep Pounding. And I'd like to hear your story from past icons for words of encouragement. Oh yeah, please see the 1992 San Diego Chargers for proof! Please and thank you. — David, Farmington, MO
I mean, if you need words of encouragement, you said them: Keep Pounding. I can't write anything any better than that. This team was blessed with a fully functioning, self-contained, 100 percent organic slogan that didn't require a focus group or consultants to create. It's marketing gold, and also the best life advice anyone could get or give.
And I mean, I get the temptation; the '92 Chargers were the only team to start 0-4 and still make the playoffs (trust me, Marty Hurney will not shut up about it), but the Panthers aren't there yet. Win a game or two before we try to talk postseason.
Beyond that, let's marvel at that letter David just wrote. Casually name-dropping running into John Robinson in Los Angeles while installing the cable at Kevin Greene's house.
I'm making him a bonus Friend Of The Mailbag and sending him something just to tell me more of that story.
I came here to vent. Frankly, I'm pissed, and I'm left wondering if I even want to go to games anymore. I'm sure you will hear that a lot this week, but this is different. I'm not pissed over the lack of on-field success (although it is disconcerting). I'm pissed at the stadium.
Fast forward to yesterday's game. We arrived with very little for security to check. My wife had her little clutch purse, which met the guidelines for entry, and I had a clear bag, which again met the guidelines, with my Canon SLR and two lenses. I have brought that exact camera bundle with me to multiple events at the stadium over the last several years, including games and concerts. For some reason, security would not allow me to enter with my 300mm zoom lens. They claimed that it was a "professional lens." I bought it at Kohl's. Professional photographers do not shop for equipment at Kohl's. They said there was a new rule that lenses cannot be more than 6" extended. When I asked when that became a rule, the guy said, "two games ago." Fortunately, I was able to take my camera to a nearby hotel to check it. It was fortunate because we drove down for the day and parked out toward UNCC and rode the light rail in. Had they not told us about the Residence Inn checking items, I would have ended up missing the game because I'm not about to drop a $100+ lens in the trash. This morning, I checked the stadium policy on Panthers.com for anything related to lens size. There is nothing. Irate does not begin to describe what I am feeling.
I know this isn't going to make it into the column. It wasn't intended to. I would hope that you might forward it to someone who might give a damn that Panthers faithful are made to feel unwelcome. It has long been my dream to own PSLs, and with my business being as successful as it is, PSL ownership is within reach. I WANT to be there; I WANT to keep obnoxious opposing fans out of our stadium. But this incident is making me question whether that is an investment I want to make.
I will do a more appropriate submission for the Mailbag shortly. Thanks. — Chris, Greensboro, NC
Some things are more important than football questions.
When things get sideways, here's what teams or organizations or websites do. They find out why. They take accountability for mistakes. They fix it, and move on, and get better.
Chris is a longtime reader, loyal fan, and FOTM. He's got skin in the game, even if he doesn't have a PSL (yet). So, he deserves an explanation.
That's on me.
The camera policy was updated this season, and detachable lenses are no longer allowed. But we didn't get it updated on the website until this week. And by we, I mean me. If I'm senior writer and managing editor at Panthers.com, it's on me to make sure the stuff on Panthers.com is correct and current. In this instance, it was not, and that's my fault. So I'll apologize to Chris in public here, and I'll reach out to him offline (as the kids say) to start making it right. It shouldn't have happened, and I appreciate you bringing it to my attention so we can make sure no one else has this same problem.
Thanks Chris, and I'm sorry.
Take a look at the best pictures from pregame, in-game, and postgame action from Sunday's game against the Vikings.
G'day Darin, it's been a minute. Hope all is going well, and you're keeping the optimism despite the less-than-optimal start to the season. For what it's worth, I don't think we're that far off. Bryce is so calm in the pocket, I can't doubt that it will all click soon enough.
Anyway, my Brisbane teams just lost their respective national finals matches in Aussie rules and Rugby League, so with the season over I'm looking for new sports to keep me going till cricket starts. It got me thinking, do the Panthers have any sister or brother teams that they often train or collaborate with? I'll take anything but Pickleball. — Peter, Brisbane, Australia
Whoa, it's Peter the Australian Punter Expert. He's one of the OGs of ATOG. He was here from the start (specifically, when the Panthers had Australian punter Lachlan Edwards in 2021 and he helped explain things). We like Peter, a lot.
And because I'd rather light a candle than curse your darkness, I could offer you a psychological stake in Eintracht Frankfurt. The Panthers don't train with them or anything (yet), but have what we like to call a "unique partnership collaboration" with our friends in Germany. This collaboration includes punter Johnny Hekker wearing lederhosen, so how bad can it be?
Hi Darin, I'm a longtime Panthers fan here, but I have to say, it's getting hard to watch this team in its current state. Life is busy (Zach's test isn't going to grade itself), and while I saw some flashes of possibility against the Vikings today (nice to see Terrace Marshall involved again), it's hard to justify the three hours of frustration each Sunday. So help me out: who are some of the young players on the team that the coaching staff is excited about and that fans can watch for further improvement this season, even if the team itself is stuck? I need something positive to talk about with Zach before class this week. Thanks! — John, Charlotte
Man, if anybody deserves a boost, it's this guy, for dealing with Zach every day. John, you're not getting paid enough. (Also, I sent him to study hall this week to make room for you).
There are some young cats here who have some potential, beyond the obvious ones while you wait for the offense to come together.
D'Shawn Jamison came here as a waiver claim from the 49ers after the initial cuts to 53, and has quickly made a name for himself among coaches. He also made a couple of dents on Kirk Cousins and Justin Jefferson last week.
He's not a big guy, but he competes and has found a place in an injury-strapped secondary. They can definitely use people who compete.
Stay tuned for more on Jamison, and if you see him in the hall, tell Zach I said GET BACK TO CLASS.
You never told us who was in your Immaculate Grid the other day, so who were the legends you chose? — Will, Rock Hill, SC
Love Immaculate Grid. It's the digitized version of "middle-aged dudes saying the names of former ballplayers." Had some former co-workers who loved opening packs of cards and just reading the names off. Guys are funny. It's what we do instead of going to therapy.
Anyway, the categories asked for Panthers players who also played for the Eagles, the Steelers, and Panthers who made the Pro Bowl. The goal is to fill in all the squares, but you get bonus points for rarity, so the more obscure, the better. I picked three dudes who combined for 0.23 percent of the answers, off the top of my head.
For the Eagles, I went with former guard Doug Brzezinski. Doug was an interesting cat. He once had a friend who was a tattoo artist go through a hard time in life, so instead of giving the guy a handout, Doug had practically his entire body covered with tats. It was a seriously human thing to do.
For the Steelers, there were a million ways to go, but Richard Huntley was the first name to pop in my head for some reason. Probably could have done better score-wise with Walter Young, Jeff Zgonina, Dwight Stone, or Ernie Mills. He was my most-common choice at 0.1 percent.
For the Pro Bowler, I went with Michael Bates, one of the greatest return men ever and an Olympic medalist. But special teamers rarely get much love.
Ran into JJ Jansen, and since he's a capital letter Baseball Guy, of course he's into IG. Guess who he picked as his Pro Bowler?
It's either the most shameless move ever or the ultimate flex. I can't decide. I'm choosing to admire it.
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.
Feel free to answer both, one or none. This coaching staff, too many cooks, or just bad recipes? Also, do you think Bryce's cool and calm demeanor is dampening the urgency of the team? — Zach, Candler, NC
I admire Zach's economy of language. So I will reply in kind.
(After surviving the Cam Newton Wars, it's way too soon to call the Body Language Police in to solve this case.)
Hey Darin, long-time reader (huge fan of all your writing), first-time writer. First off, I admire your patience with what I'm sure is a getting-old-fast line of questions. Heaven knows I see enough on FB to cause some serious eyerolls. Can't imagine having my inbox inundated with them. Anyhow, if I remember correctly, last year's run game success used a "heavy package" with an extra lineman quite a bit. Obviously, there is a new coaching staff now, but have the Panthers played with that idea on the practice field any this year? — Stephen, Waynesville, NC
They did it last year out of necessity when all they were good at was running. I've seen them experiment with a lot of stuff since the start of the offseason, but I think at the moment, replacing a pass-catcher with a blocker isn't the direction they want to go while they try to develop Bryce.
I have a lot of hope for improvement as the year goes on. Even though the first few games have been less than perfect, seeing the anticipation and understanding on some of Bryce's throws is very exciting. Here is my question. Why isn't Jeremy Chinn playing more? Especially with the linebacker injuries. It seems like he should be in on every play whether at defensive back or linebacker. I understand he isn't an every-down linebacker, but he is an ideal third-down linebacker, especially with Shaq out. — Luke, Birmingham, AL
Jeremy played quite a bit last week, when they were running what amounts to a one-linebacker defense. That allowed him to be in the box, and he showed up with the sack. Jeremy's hard to put into a box, and the lack of a conventional description makes it hard for him to have a conventional role. But he's still here and contributing, and as you saw Sunday, he's capable of making plays.
Why didn't Andy Dalton play any during the Vikings game? At least a few snaps and bring Young back in? — Frank, Dunn, NC
Because Bryce is the quarterback. Getting him right is more important than moving Dalton up the all-time touchdown pass list (he's 27th with 246, one behind Boomer Esiason for 26th).
OK is now a fine time to admit that this is a pathetic team, and that going 0-17 is a real possibility? — Eric, Brick Township, NJ
Everything's a possibility, including one of my favorite residents of New Jersey not being Mr. GrumpyPants all the time.
Might I introduce you to Don Breaux? Actually, maybe I should reconsider; Eric might try to retire here. And do we really need that?