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Bryce Young doing the little things, feeling at home

Bryce Young

CHARLOTTE — If you wanted granular evidence that Panthers rookie quarterback Bryce Young was beginning to feel more at home in his new spot, there are a dozen throws he made over the course of minicamp and OTAs that might speak to it, or adjustments made at the line of scrimmage, or reads a rookie doesn't ordinarily make.

But if you wanted the real measure of the progress he's made in the six weeks since being drafted No. 1 overall, you can tell it from how he's been accepted by the players who are now his peers.

Veteran pass-rusher Brian Burns drew some laughs when asked about his new teammate earlier this week, fooling no one by opening with: "I don't like him."

"I'm just playing. It's hard not to like that kid," Burns said. "I don't know; he put quite a stamp on the locker room. He walks around with this kind of humble, excuse my language, like humble but I know I'm the s--- type of type of swag. Like he knows he got it, but he's humble with it. And he's always happy. I don't know.

"I mean, it's hard not to like that kid. He's a good kid. Good guy."

Young's still young enough that the use of one of the milder profanities might have rattled him for a second, one of the few evidences of such in his short time with the Panthers.

"I did hear," he said Wednesday, with a pause while he let the laughter subside. "Personally, I don't know how to proceed. Brian, he's really cool to work with. Him allowing me, him welcoming me here, being a leader, being a veteran, showing me the love that he has. That's been everyone on the team and in the locker room. I'm grateful to be embraced like I have. I'm super-grateful to be part of this team. I'm learning a lot every day; I'm trying to do everything I can to help the team. So for me, that's what I'm focused on. . . .

"For me, I think confidence is something you earn. And I show up every day. I think right now, as a team, as a group, we try to earn that confidence."

The every day part is the key to the impression he's made.

From the moment he was drafted, Young has tried to maximize every moment he's had here in the building. Whether it was hanging around as long as he could after the post-draft hoopla to get a head start on rookie minicamp or showing up on the field for that camp before there were people on hand to document it.

Each day during OTAs, he's either the first or among the first ones out and one of the last to return to the locker room. Each day, after he threw balls with receivers Jonathan Mingo and Terrace Marshall Jr. after practice, he'd take a few minutes for himself before he went back in for meetings.

Quietly and alone, he'd duck into the corner of the Atrium Health Dome, away from cameras, and spend some time getting extra core work in, the kind of thing few people see but the kind of thing that can make a visible difference on the field.

And his teammates see it.

Wide receiver/elder statesman/security blanket Adam Thielen said he'd been impressed by everything he's witnessed so far from Young. If you wanted to drill down into the particulars of the on-field work this spring, you might conclude that Young and Thielen already have developed some degree of connection. Last year with the Vikings, four of Thielen's six touchdowns came from the 4-yard line or closer, and there have been signs he could match that kind of close-in production here. A smart veteran receiver who knows how to get open in tight spaces seems to be a good match for a smart rookie quarterback who has shown the ability to make quick decisions and put the ball in the right spot.

"I think there's so much talk about him. So there's not a whole lot of surprise," Thielen said. "I guess, for me, it's probably been just his movement in the pocket, his kind of ability to, you know, get the ball out on time, but do that in a way that isn't just like sitting in one stagnant spot. You know, sometimes it can be easy in this time of the year when you're not getting hit, no pads on and things like that, to kind of just sit there and no fear and just throw it around.

"But you can tell that he practices like a game. And I've always been a firm believer that when you do that, it makes the games a lot easier. And that's been really impressive."

Of course, you kind of expect that when you draft a player first overall. The expectations are going to be high, whether acted on by external means or not. Cornerback Donte Jackson said that when several teammates heard the news of the March trade that gave the Panthers the right to select Young, the excitement was tangible.

"We knew we were going to go get a dog, and we're definitely happy with the dog we got," Jackson said.

And Burns, who studies quarterbacks from the other direction as closely as anyone, agreed that he was impressed with the quick command Young appears to have.

"He's smart. Because this is a pretty complicated system that they run, and they run a lot of different things," Burns said. "It's complicated from the outside looking in, so I know it's really complicated from his perspective. But he's smart. He's catching on quick. He's making great throws, and he's not making a lot of mistakes.

"But overall, he just fits the culture that we're trying to have in Carolina. Like coming in my rookie year, I was looking at the guys like Luke (Kuechly), Shaq Thompson, Christian (McCaffrey), Mario Addison, people like that, KK (Kawann Short). And that's kind of the mold that we got, like, it's no egos. It's like, it's all about getting better, it's all about working, and he fits that mold to a tee."

And Young's low-key demeanor has also helped him blend in. He said he planned to set up a group workout prior to coming to training camp in Spartanburg, but when asked if he had anything "fun" planned during players' last break before camp and the 18-week grind of a regular season, he said it was mostly just working out and preparing: "And I view that as fun."

His accuracy, his command of the material, and his ability to make quick decisions earned him his draft status. The diligence he's exhibited so far has earned him the respect of players like Burns.

And if you're trying to draw conclusions from an unpadded, non-contact set of practices in May and June, that's probably as good a first impression as you can make.

Asked about the biggest difference in himself now than six weeks ago, Young mentioned his "comfortability," which he credited to the extreme amount of coaching he's getting here and the welcome he's felt.

"And my teammates, again, embracing me, pushing me, holding me accountable," Young said. "We all take responsibility here; it's a great group of guys that all look in the mirror first. We all come together, see what we could have done better, and then we'll talk about it. So, you know, I think it's just being able to build time with this coaching staff and his team and build a connection.

"You know, honestly, I couldn't say one guy just because it's been so strong from everybody. From guys on offense, guys on defense, special teams; whether it's been my fellow rookie class. It's really been a family environment or family atmosphere, I feel like, from all angles, all levels, all different positions. I couldn't say one person has been able to stand out, because I feel like everyone. You know, this is a family; we've been able to come together. And again, for me being a rookie, this being my first experience, the NFL, I didn't know what it was going to be like. And for this to be what it is, I'm really grateful to be part of this."

After six weeks together, you get the sense he's not the only one feeling that way.

Check out photos from Panthers practice during mandatory minicamp.

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