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Carolina Panthers

Dave Canales sat next to Andy Reid, and wants to emulate his ability to adapt

Dave Canales

ORLANDO, Fla. — It was not a coincidence that Dave Canales was in the middle of the front row for the annual head coaches picture at the league's owners meeting.

Next to Andy Reid was the spot he wanted to be in, and the place he wants to be.

Sliding in next to the three-time Super Bowl champion was absolutely on purpose, as Canales tries to develop a quarterback in Bryce Young, an offense around him, and a program that resembles the one Reid has put together in Kansas City.

They might not reach Reid and Patrick Mahomes levels (few ever have), but that's clearly the goal.

"Well, he was already sitting down, and everybody, there were like three chairs on either side of him, and everybody else was kind of standing in the back with their buddies," Canales explained as he kicked off his 35-minute interview session Tuesday. "And I was like, I'm sitting next to the guy, I'm going right there.

"Like, he's my favorite. I mean, offensively, it's just the way that he becomes who his quarterback is. You watch over the years; the offenses look different based on who that guy is in a really specific way. And so, I've admired that and tried to employ that too whether I was receiver's coach, quarterbacks coach, offensive coordinator. And certainly now, with Bryce, it's like, who are we going to become with this guy at the helm, calling plays and becoming that part?

"So all those things, that's a long way to answer. Like, I was so fired up to sit next to coach Reid and be able to take the picture."

Of course, it's going to take more than osmosis to get the Panthers there, and Canales is aware of the work that's in front of him to get them to the level he's trying to attain.

He's still in the very early stages of the process, as they're putting a team together around Young. But when Canales took the job, he said his first task was to get to know Young on a personal level first, and that's another thing he's approaching methodically.

The Panthers were very particular to make things more comfortable for the second-year quarterback in the opening hours of free agency, signing two top-of-market guards in Robert Hunt and Damien Lewis, allowing them to move Austin Corbett to center. Then they traded for a guy who specializes in getting open and making plays downfield by trading for Diontae Johnson.

But for Canales, the work began even before then, by building a relationship with his quarterback.

That includes what he described as some "three-hour dinners" and conversations that began with their shared background in Southern California and built up to what they want to do on offense.

But that first talk, he wanted to hear from Young about his football journey and what happened last year (in all its uncomfortable detail).

"We just try to connect on a personal level, and then what I'm trying to do is I'm trying to just build that emotional currency because I'm going to need to start drawing from that as we start to face challenges to get into the offseason," Canales said. "You know, we start to talk about footwork and talk about protections and critiquing this and that. I think the more that we can create a relationship, it really softens the message versus when it's just like player-coach, it's kind of clunky, and it's a little bit abrasive when it's just like you're constantly just correcting these football things, but you don't have the basis of a relationship to lean on."

The hope is by laying that foundation now, the corrections become more conversational, and the hard conversations will become easier.

Asked if there was anything in particular he's learned about Young as he's gotten to know him, Canales said he can tell there's a little more salt to Young than he might have expected from the outside.

"Everyone says he's such a nice kid, you know, he's such a nice guy and all this," Canales said. "And it's like, yeah, but there's an edge there, and you don't get to, you don't play at the level of football that he has played without having an edge, without having that confidence in yourself. To be able to be introspective, to learn the hard lessons, and to be able to communicate it, and see it with a hopeful mindset.

"I think that's one of the things that I've learned about him. He's like, I'm glad I went through this past year. I'm glad I had the challenges of this because this is very different than anything that I've experienced up to this point, you know, and to feel him and to hear his hopefulness for where we're headed, it's exactly what you would hope to hear from your quarterback and, and from a guy that, that sees the best for himself going forward."

There were plenty of hard lessons for Young to learn last year, when he won just two of his 16 starts and was sacked 62 times, tying a franchise record and absorbing the sixth-most sacks in league history.

But Canales has been impressed with the resilience he's seen already as they begin their journey together.

He's constantly emphasized he wants to make this about the entire team rather than just Young and that they want to build the offense to allow him to make it that way. "Get the football right" is a phrase Canales says a lot, and they're clearly working toward that point on offense with their busy start to free agency.

Andy Reid

It's a big job, and Canales knows that. That's also why he's choosing the right role model and trying to absorb as much of Andy Reid's vibe as he can in interactions beyond just sitting for the picture.

Reid has figured out how to make Patrick Mahomes the best version of himself. That's exactly what Canales is trying to do with Young, just as he did with Baker Mayfield last year in Tampa or Geno Smith and Russell Wilson before him in Seattle.

"It's just that notion of becoming what he is," Canales said. "It's everything, because it's not just about the pass game and what suits him best and what puts him on his best foot, but it's the whole offense. It's how much can we play at the line of scrimmage? How much can we do in the run game? And then how can we grow incrementally as he takes on these things and allows us to really be an attacking style of offense that we want to be? The best way to do that is to refine the system and the pre-snap operation. But then also dive into the pass game and say, what does he throw with a firm back foot? That's kind of the litmus test.

"That's Russell, that's Geno, that's the Baker. Now, it's going to be Bryce and Andy Dalton as hard as we go through things. . . . So it's going to take some time, but we'll be committed to that."

The Carolina Panthers were busy in free agency this week, signing multiple players on both sides of the ball. The first wave arrived on Thursday and Friday, getting a tour of Bank of America Stadium, meeting coaches, teammates and taking in their new home.

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