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Bryce Young ready to get back to work, grow as a leader

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CHARLOTTE — When Bryce Young left Bank of America Stadium in January, after a lost season, he went home to California to decompress.

That's not unusual, as it's something he always did, even after great seasons in college at Alabama.

But as he returns to the practice field today when the Panthers open their first voluntary minicamp, there are two things that seem clear.

First of all, they're all ready to start, to get the taste of last year out of their mouths.

"We're definitely hungry," Young said. "Definitely, there's an eagerness. And you can tell in the locker room there's that want-to, to get to where we need to go.

"So I think that's something that's definitely driven everyone."

And if they're all driven, he's ready to take the wheel.

"I think just leadership is one of the big things," Young replied when asked what specific steps he wanted to take in his second year.

There are football things he needs to do, of course, but owning his role is a priority for him, and something he's stressed as soon as he got back to work.

"I'm making sure that I take accountability and responsibility for us to make sure that we're on the same page," he said. "I think last year, I came in, and I wanted to learn. Obviously, I was in a position where I'm the starting quarterback and a leader, but also I felt like there was a process of me trying to learn and earn that respect, and earn the ability to be a leader."

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Acknowledging that difference between bestowed and earned respect is a big first step, but it's the kind of thing that's in his control after a year that really wasn't.

After being picked first overall, Young was thrown into the spin cycle, experiencing three play-caller changes and a head coaching change before he got to his first professional December. He now has a new coach (Dave Canales) and a new GM (Dan Morgan) helping to facilitate what he hopes will be a bounce-back season. That he was able to bounce at all after absorbing 62 sacks as part of the league's last-ranked offense is itself a testament to resilience.

But before Young could begin building back, he needed to step back from the avalanche, and process just how much snow had fallen.

When asked how he spent the time away, Young apologizes for not offering a more compelling answer. He went home. He saw some basketball games, including Knicks star Jalen Brunson dropping 42 on the Sacramento Kings and then his alma mater, Alabama, knocking UNC out in the Sweet 16. But mostly, it was an act of slowing down for a moment that he has made routine.

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"Literally. Nothing," he replied with a laugh. "I was kind of away from football for the most part, just living every other aspect of my life. Just hanging out, being around family, being around friends, getting back to a routine that doesn't revolve as much around football. For me, it was still being able to just enjoy and work out, but the Xs and Os actual football part, kind of stepping away from it.

"Legit, it sounds boring, like I'm holding something out, but I'm not. But it's really like I watch YouTube, I watch TV, I watch Netflix, and every once in a while, I'll go someplace to maybe look at some clothes or something. There's nothing really cool that I'm just trying to hang onto. I'm definitely kind of a homebody. I'm an only child, so I'm used to being able to just chill on my own. That's how I decompress. So it's really just that."

Of course, you don't end up winning a Heisman or being picked first overall if you're too good at laying about doing nothing. And he admitted that sleeping in lasted all of about a week, at which point he got back to morning workouts and getting ready for the physical challenges to come.

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So when the offseason program began two weeks ago, he was here every day, showing his teammates, many of them new, that he's serious about the accountability part. When you're the No. 1 overall pick in the draft, the attention comes naturally. But there's a difference between being noticed and being recognized as a leader. Young is not a (public) yeller, but he has a command over his group that his teammates noticed in a year that went poorly.

So the fact he wants to lean into that now is instructive.

"I feel like now just embracing and making sure that even starting with the on-field stuff, making sure that I'm holding everyone accountable, that we all have accountability, we all have the right mindset," he said. "We're not overlooking little things. That we have a good base and good structure for how the year is going to go.

"And the good thing is we have the group of guys that want to do that. We have a group of guys that want to be held accountable, that want the best, that want to do those little things. It's just making sure that we make a culture, so that's what happens on a day-to-day basis. So I feel like cultivating that culture is something that's really important for me."

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Veteran backup quarterback Andy Dalton, who is entering his 14th NFL season as Young enters his second, said much of the comfort will come from simply knowing this place and the routine.

"I think the big thing for him is the playbook is new, some of the people are new, but he knows where he's going to work, he knows the environment, he knows the locker room, he knows the people," Dalton said. "So not everything is new anymore, so you're not trying to figure things out. I think that's the biggest thing in your rookie year. You're trying to figure it all out on the go, and now you're playing games, and everything is new every week.

"Where now, he's way more comfortable. He's in a great place and now it's like he can learn and grow and do stuff at an easy pace, at the right pace."

Of course, it's still very different. But Canales came into the job talking about building a relationship with his new quarterback, and it didn't take long to start. Young recalled their first phone conversation, and said he immediately recognized his new coach's "energy" — which is a common discovery — but it ran deeper than simply encouragement.

"You could tell he had a lot of good energy, a lot of positive energy, but also you can tell he's very comfortable being himself," Young said. "Literally, from the first time I met him until now. I saw him in the hall 30 seconds ago, and it was the same energy, the same person. I might have heard that about him before. But you can tell that he's very authentically himself. He's someone who obviously has a lot of wisdom and knows a lot, but he also will be vocal about wanting to learn and continuing to grow. He's transparent about his journey and his coaching style, and he's upfront.

"He's not going to beat around the bush. He's going to tell you his opinions; he's going to tell you what is going to happen. And I think that that's super-important, knowing that you're going to get an honest, transparent version of someone every day."

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And even with a much younger coaching staff, Young has noticed a new vibe, saying he's picked up on the "synergy" between Morgan and Canales, who talked about the need for communication as they prepared for their first draft together. That's obviously deliberate, and Young said from the conversations he's had with the new coaching staff, he's felt a familiar vibe in a different room.

"There are some younger guys, but you can tell that they're very comfortable in their skin, and that's that authenticity. I feel like it is huge," he said.

Of course, the good feelings won't matter as much if the football isn't better. Canales is trying to keep it from being all about Young, and has done so since he arrived.

"That's my heart for this whole thing. I want him to feel like he can just come and do his 1/11th," Canales said last week. "If he can just do his part, if you look at the great teams he was a part of in Alabama. He won a lot of games when they had a good offense and a good defense. He did his part, and he played big in big moments. And I would love to create that here so he can just do that part of it and not make it about him."

That's a noble goal. But quarterbacks get attention, especially quarterbacks drafted first overall. And Young's quick to acknowledge that part. As much as Canales tries to emphasize he doesn't want to put too much on Young's plate, Young knows he's a focal point. That's why he wants to be intentional about the way he does everything this offseason.

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"I just want to be the best version I can," he began. "Obviously, we have a lot of change in the system. New coaching staff, a couple of new pieces. So, it's going to be a great opportunity for us to grow and build together. But, I think as a team, individually, all combined, I think we learned a lot and grew a lot. Obviously, it was not the year we wanted to have last year. But, you know, you're able to learn from those experiences."

The goal is to create what he referred to as "a unified team," and that starts today.

"It's great just to see us all on the same page," Young said. "Obviously, right now, we're super-optimistic and there's a lot of good things and a lot of excitement. But no matter how our season goes, every team is going to face adversity at some point. And, you know, I feel like it's a good group of guys.

"Obviously you learn a lot during that, but I feel confident that we're well equipped to be able to get through that and be able to work through the things we need to work through when that comes and us to still be consistent. And that's just because of the consistency that it feels like everyone's bringing. So that's super-exciting."

And that starts with his own work and his own goal for the coming year.

"I want to make sure I'm the best version of myself," he said, echoing one of his personal mantras. "And continue to grow, get more comfortable in the system, continue to take ownership, and grow as a leader."

View photos from the weight room as the Panthers' players went through their second week of voluntary offseason workouts on April 15, 2024.

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