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Before picking Bryce Young, the Panthers built an offense for him

Bryce Young

CHARLOTTE — When the Panthers knew they were going to be in the market for a rookie quarterback, they were looking for someone to manage, someone to distribute.

The point was to not put the entire load on the pick who would become Bryce Young.

Now, that doesn't mean they don't think he's capable of big plays, because the two years of film he produced at Alabama showed all the evidence they needed that he could do whatever's necessary.

"There wasn't one play; that was just it," Panthers head coach Frank Reich said Thursday night. "I mean, there were lots of kind of highlight plays, but you know, there were so many. He's had such a prolific career, and he makes all the plays.

"Every kind of play you want to see a quarterback make, situationally, in the big moments, he makes the little throws, the big moments, the big throws; they are all over the tape."

Of course, when you're picking first overall, that's some of what you expect — the quarterbacks you draft there are the good ones.

But looking back at the course of the entire offseason, the steps they took were designed to give a rookie the best chance to succeed early on.

Just as the 2011 Panthers did by giving Cam Newton reliable targets in tight end Greg Olsen and Jeremy Shockey to go with Steve Smith and a strong running game, the Panthers acquired the kind of offensive help this offseason that allows Young to ease into his NFL transition.

Bradley Bozeman

For starters, they re-signed center Bradley Bozeman to keep last year's vastly improved line together (and to give him another Alabama man to help his transition).

The Panthers allowed just 36 sacks last year, and 19 of those came in the first six games before Bozeman entered the starting lineup. When Young looks at a line that paved the way for a prolific run game and allowed 1.5 sacks per game over the last 11, he likely walks in the door feeling a little more secure.

Then the Panthers began systematically finding the kind of targets in the passing game that are easiest for a quarterback to find.

Beginning with running back Miles Sanders (who caught 50 passes as a rookie in Philadelphia, when he played with now-Panthers running backs coach Duce Staley), to tight end Hayden Hurst (who caught 52 passes playing with another No. 1 overall pick quarterback in Joe Burrow), to a veteran receiver who can comfortably work out of the slot in Adam Thielen (70 catches last season was an off year for him), the Panthers were careful to acquire the guys who could lay a stable foundation.

Adding a deep threat later in DJ Chark Jr. to go along with Terrace Marshall Jr. and an effective run-pass threat in Laviska Shenault Jr. (plus anything else they might do the rest of the weekend) creates that opportunity to build on it.

Andy Dalton, Frank Reich, Thomas Brown, Josh McCown

They've already put together the playbook, designed by offensive coordinator Thomas Brown bringing principles from Sean McVay and the Rams along with the ideas brought to the table by a staff with a wealth of experience (from Reich to Jim Caldwell to Josh McCown and beyond).

They were already running it this week in minicamp this week with backup quarterback Andy Dalton, but it was put together with this very special rookie in mind (and bringing in Dalton, who started as a rookie himself and knows the challenges, was another piece of the puzzle).

"We've been talking about that really for a couple of weeks as a coaching staff," Reich said. "Won't get into all of the particulars, but that's what we philosophically are asking ourselves. Going back and watching his tape even more now, watching it not just from an evaluation standpoint, but he was so good at so many things in college. But we always like to look at his college tape to see what concepts that he was really good at in college that are already in our offense. That's a good starting point, you know.

"And then see the kind of plays he makes, how he likes to throw the ball when he is throwing certain routes, what style of concepts; there's a lot of different what we call families of passes. That will be what we do really from now until training camp."

Of course, having a No. 1 overall pick also creates expectations, and owner David Tepper wasn't shying away from that when he said he hoped picking Young led to Super Bowls.

"You know the way he throws the ball, the way he's a point guard, how you can use the different players on the field, how you might not have to have as many elite receivers because he's the point guard, right?" Tepper said when describing Young's talents. "He distributes the ball to people with routes. So you can save some money there. We believe we can save some money in other places because of him and put that money into the defensive side of the ball. ...

"This year with Frank, we wanted to go out in free agency and the different pieces we needed for wide receivers. We think we have some great route runners in Thielen and Hayden and other people here, and that is somewhat intentional, thinking about what we will need if we have the point guard."

That's why there was an eagerness around the team's draft room last night of coaches ready to get to work with Young on learning this new system and these new people together.

Because after putting all the other pieces in place, they think he can be the one to lift all the others up.

View photos of the Panthers decision-makers after they selected Bryce Young first overall in the 2023 NFL Draft.

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