CHARLOTTE — New Panthers coach Dave Canales saw Bryce Young twice last season, both in the last six weeks of the season.
It wasn't his new quarterback's best work.
But as Canales takes over a new team — the one on the wrong end of 21-18 and 9-0 decisions against the Buccaneers last year — he's broadening his scope regarding his new quarterback.
"I don't think it's all isolated on what I saw this year," Canales said of his evaluation of Young. "The cool part is we're just a year out of doing all of these evaluations for the quarterback position, and in Tampa, we were in a position to maybe look for a quarterback. So, I was able to really dive in and what I saw there was just that really accurate passer, a courageous quarterback, not just talking about specific pocket presence but also just critical games, the amount of games he won at every level really, as a high school player, as a college player at Alabama, this guy is just a winner.
"He's got the right makeup to be able to be a champion. And so then you watch him play NFL football, and I still see the accuracy, the mobility, the courage in the pocket. All those things are still there. So now it's just about building an offense in its totality that is a good product so that he's just 1/11 of that process."
The Bucs were picking 19th last year, so they weren't getting to Young, who was chosen first overall. But they were still in the quarterback market, despite a low-cost flier on veteran Baker Mayfield, so their staff did all the evaluations on the rookies.
And after studying the whole class, Canales confirmed that Young was indeed the top quarterback on Tampa's board last spring — as he was with an overwhelming majority of the league at the time.
"Absolutely," Canales said, recoiling a bit at the question and making a face as if it was obvious.
"What I went back to is, it's arm, animal, talent, and the man, these are just metrics that I use, my own personal words," Canales said. "He's all of these, especially the man, he's the man, he's the right guy."
When asked to define "animal," Canales grinned, as one of his personal buzzwords had reached an audience that hadn't heard it before.
"Just your ability to get out of trouble," he said. "Quarterbacks come in all shapes and sizes, and I think that when you look at the good quarterbacks, they all have enough animal to them to get themselves out of trouble, and he's got that."
Trouble found Young far too often last year, as he was sacked 62 times in 16 games, tying a franchise record and reaching the sixth-highest total in league history. A lot of that had to do with their struggles to keep a stable offensive line in front of him (they used seven left guards and eight right guards). But it was also a part of a systemic breakdown on offense, which led to a coaching change and a new direction. The whole thing was busted, from fundamentals to routes to language, the lot of it.
That's why Canales wants to keep the emphasis on the whole of the offense rather than putting the whole focus on Young.
"We've just got to learn from those experiences," Canales said. "We have to study our tape, but we also have to study the playoff games. What are championship performances? You're going to hear me say championship a lot, but it's looking at those playoff games to see the winning quarterback. How did he get this done? And what we're going to come away with, which happens every year, is a quarterback who takes care of the football and maximizes opportunities to be special three to five times a game. That's it. You don't have to be special the whole game; those games are not won that way.
"And so I think that if I can paint a picture of Bryce just playing his role, his 1/11th, then it does take some of the pressure off of this unrealistic expectation for a player to carry a team that just doesn't exist. And so, I want to just paint that picture for him."
There's only so much work they can do yet since league rules limit what can happen during the offseason. Canales said he's talked to Young on the phone, but other than a few interactions at last year's combine, they haven't spent as much time together as they're going to.
"I wanted him to be able to feel my excitement coming into this opportunity. To be a head coach for sure, but specifically to be his coach," Canales said of their talk. "And the belief that I have in him. I just pinch myself, really. Like, when I was in Seattle for 13 years, we were never anywhere close to the top pick in the draft. And for me to ever think I was going to have a chance to develop a team with a first overall pick, the best quarterback in the draft.
"This is a dream, and I just wanted him to feel that excitement from me like I'm ready, and I hope you're excited too because I have something that I can bring that I can help you just take the next step in your path."
So, even though the Young he saw twice wasn't particularly good — Young was 26-of-49 for 272 yards with no touchdowns, four interceptions, and seven sacks in two games against the Bucs — Canales is also choosing to see that as an opportunity to grow for his new quarterback.
He's used to working with quarterbacks who have scars — he coached veterans Geno Smith and Mayfield to bounce-back years — and thinks some of those lessons will still apply to a younger student who has fewer, but is coming off a rough rookie year.
"The cool part is I have a whole season," Canales said. "I have 16 games of NFL film to watch of him. My mind is combining the things that he did in pockets this season. But also for me, I just got Bryce Young from Alabama, and now he's got NFL experience; that's like gold. That's gold.
"Because regardless of what the record was, it's our experiences. You talk about Geno Smith going through a really rough patch and then getting into some really hard situations and then kind of having to bounce around. You know, Baker went through six or seven offensive coordinators and eight play callers for a time. Like, you talk about hardest of hard.
"So with Bryce it's really, it's one year. So, I can lean on a lot of the things that I wrote up in my (pre-draft) reports about him. In my report, I just wrote, he's got everything you want."
View images of the Panthers' new head coach and President of Football Operations/General Manager as they set foot in Charlotte following the Senior Bowl.