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Carolina Panthers

Bryce Young keeping his focus on first game, not the first of many

Bryce Young

CHARLOTTE — When you draft a quarterback first overall, the natural tendency is to think about what he's going to do for years to come.

Panthers head coach Frank Reich is old enough to know that it will likely include some parts that won't be as fondly remembered.

Panthers quarterback Bryce Young is young enough to know that it's too soon to think about eventual goals and wise enough to know that all he can control is what's in front of him.

As he prepares for his first NFL start against the Falcons on Sunday, the No. 1 pick said he's trying to limit his thinking to just that game that's immediately in front of him.

"I'm really just thinking about Atlanta," Young said Wednesday. "I think in the long term, that's going to be up to God, and that's out of my hands. Stuff that happens in the long term, and when you look back at whatever it may be, and big picture stuff, it happened because of the accumulation of small things and day-to-day things.

"So for me, I'm not thinking about the long term; I'm not thinking about perspective. I'm not thinking about down the line."

That's perhaps just as well because the reality for rookie quarterbacks, even the best of the best, is that their early careers have been marked by struggle.

A number one overall pick hasn't won his first start in a regular season opener since 2002, when David Carr and the expansion Texans beat the Cowboys in the opener. Of course, Carr was sacked six times that day, setting the stage for what would be a trend for him until he escaped here in 2007 to become Jake Delhomme's backup.

In the last 30 years, going back to the Patriots' 1993 No. 1 pick Drew Bledsoe, 11 top picks started the opener of their rookie year. Those quarterbacks are a combined 1-9-1, with Carr's win and Kyler Murray's heroic tie against the Lions in 2019 the only non-losses.

Those 11 players threw 16 touchdowns and 22 interceptions in those games for a 64.0 passer rating, and were sacked 36 times.

And even the bright performances came with their share of pain. In 2011, Cam Newton posted the only passer rating above 80 among the group, as his 110.4 rating came as part of a 422-yard game against the Cardinals. But they lost, and he was sacked four times.

It's a long road for even the best quarterbacks of all time. Peyton Manning threw three picks and was sacked four times in his 1998 debut, part of a rookie season in which he led the league with 28 interceptions and led the Colts to a 3-13 record.

This stuff is hard.

That's why when Reich was asked when he knew that Young was ready for this assignment, he acknowledged that there's really no handbook for this, and the lessons will not all be easy.

"Listen, I don't want to overstate this; I've said this many times. Obviously, we think very highly of him, but this isn't going to be a cake walk," Reich said. "This is going to be fight and scratch every step of the way to get, he's got a fight to get better.

"He's a really, really, really good player, but he's got a lot to learn. I have a lot to learn, we have, this is our first year as a staff, a new offense, and we've got a lot to learn. So we do that while we're in business, while we're rolling along, and that's what we're going to do, and we're excited. He's our leader on offense, and we have confidence he's going to grow into the player that we all want him to be."

Even if growing means growing pains.

Young said he's talked to a number of his peers in the quarterback world, including former Alabama teammate Mac Jones and other older players whom he did not identify, in an effort to learn some of the little things that a college player can not be expected to understand about the difference, the kind of "wisdom" that he might have to earn the hard way.

Reich is one of those guys who has that wisdom, along with 16-year NFL quarterback Josh McCown, Young's position coach, so he has a layer of support around him.

And once the games start, the real education will begin, and Reich knows that there's a balance between the now and the eventual and the way the lessons will be learned.

"The great thing about the season is when you dial it down to one game at a time, you're trying to really tightly define what you're going to do and why you're going to do it," he said. "And then you realize that over the course of a season and a career, you're building pieces and a foundation to his career, to all of our players.

"But since the question is about Bryce, you can't put all those pieces in place in one week. So we have to be patient. You know, we understand that, hey, you play a team like Atlanta that brings certain things out. We're going to try to do certain things on offense. So, he and our offense, we learn it one piece at a time, and you really learn it best when you get tested. And the crucible is the hottest in the heat of the game when it all counts the most. So we'll be patient with that but understand the urgency to each week."

View photos of the Panthers' practice on Wednesday.

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