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Bryce Young earning first-team reps, locker room respect 

Bryce Young

CHARLOTTE – The week before minicamp had been earmarked at this stage in Bryce Young's progression.

Frank Reich said he and general manager Scott Fitterer, along with the rest of the coaching staff, collaborated on a plan for Young to move up to receiving the majority of first-team reps in practice at this juncture. So when the rookie started taking snaps with the ones on Monday, it was always part of the plan.

"It's just the next step, right?" Reich said after OTAs on Thursday. "There's really nothing to say other than, 'Hey, we just wanted to move him up this week.' Felt like it's been the right time."

It's not that the Panthers have already decided on the official depth chart or that Young is formally the starter. Reich reiterated the message he clung onto during the pre-draft process when asked about a Week 1 starter – Why make a decision weeks (and months) before you have to?

Reich did have a conversation with Young at the end of last week to discuss the practice reps, that Young would be taking the first snaps from starting center Bradley Bozeman and working with the first group of receivers. Veteran Andy Dalton had taken that role on as the primary first-teamer throughout OTAs to that point, a time for Young to learn behind someone who's been in the league for over a decade.

"We did not discuss it with him until the end of last week," Reich said. "Just wanted to kind of keep (it) open. We could have shifted it; we could have moved it up, moved it back. I really didn't want to move it up because I thought things were going the way we wanted.

"So at the end of last week, I pulled Bryce aside and Andy aside, just to say, 'Hey, we talked about this from the beginning. You guys are doing exactly like we wanted to, so great job. You're going to make this switch and move forward.'"

After last week's talk, they are letting their first-overall pick take more control on the practice field. Young said he knew the time would be coming, and after a few weeks watching Dalton, he has a pretty strong early grasp on some baseline pro habits.

"Andy's been amazing," Young said. "I've been able to throw all my questions at him, bounce a lot of stuff off of (him). He tells me how he processes things, how he sees things. I've had a lot of conversations, and I definitely am grateful for him to be here, to have him here, and to have learned from him, to keep learning from (him) day in and day out. I learn stuff from him every day, whether it's in the meeting room or on the practice field. So I'm super grateful to have him here."

Wide receiver DJ Chark Jr. said he's noticed the reputation Young has already built in the locker room and the belief in the young quarterback has inspired across his teammates.

"He's been fantastic," Chark said. "He's been light-hearted, going about his business the same way every day. Approachable, jokes in the huddle when it's time for that, is very much in control. And he – I can tell you now that he has the respect of everyone in that locker room, and he hasn't done anything to lose that respect. He only continues to gain it. We're here for him. Everybody here is here for him. And we believe he can take us to some really high places."

And Young is making the kind of throws the coaches want to see at this point too.

Young connected with Chark in Thursday's period open to the media, a well-executed deep shot down the sideline. Chark, back on the field recently for the first time since an offseason ankle procedure, shared that the speed in which he's already built chemistry with Young has been impressive, especially compared to the teams he's played with in the past.

"This is actually my first week catching with any of the QBs, so it was great that we're able to hit big plays like this so early," Chark said. "When I was in Detroit, with me and (Jared Goff), it took a minute, but once you got it, it was there. So it was cool to be able to get it so quickly here."

Yes, Reich said there is some semblance of a depth chart at this point (before mandatory minicamp starts up next week) to help players register where they're at on the roster. But it's not hardened, and it's certainly not set in stone for September 10 at Atlanta, but it's also not much of a mystery. The Panthers traded up to No. 1 to take Young for a reason.

"There's a depth chart; it gets talked about so the players can kind of understand a little bit," Reich said. "But we understand we're not in pads. And there's only so much you can see, but it is worth talking about and helping guys understand where they're at."

And as for Young's progress, this is what Reich and the coaches expected to see, and the move to increase his first-team reps keeps them on schedule.

"For right now, that was our move," Reich said. "There's really nothing more to say other than this was the time we had earmarked to make a move, we made the move, we'll just keep progressing. And we're always going to do what's best for the team."

Check out photos from Carolina's Tuesday practice.

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