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Five things to watch vs. Houston: Offensive reset

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CHARLOTTE – The Panthers return from the bye week for a home matchup.

Carolina (0-6, 0-2 NFC South) takes on the the Houston Texans (3-3, 1-1 AFC South) on Sunday at Bank of America Stadium, looking to find its first win on Hall of Honor weekend.

Kickoff is set for 1 p.m. in Charlotte. Fans can check out more information on how to watch here.

Here are five things to check out during the game.

Thomas Brown calls the plays

Head coach Frank Reich handed over play-calling duties to offensive coordinator Thomas Brown just before the bye, so Brown's first game in that role comes this week against the Texans.

And Brown only has one thing on his mind.

"Winning," he said. "Only thing that matters is winning, so (I'm) focused on that."

Brown has had a rapid rise to his position, learning under Sean McVay in Los Angeles as running backs coach, assistant head coach, and tight ends coach before he was hired for his first NFL coordinator role here at Carolina.

He said he had been communicating play calls with rookie quarterback Bryce Young even before he was given the role, rotating series with Reich throughout practice before the change became official.

The most prominent change for Brown has been his preparation throughout the week, but even that hasn't been too out of the ordinary.

"Biggest thing is obviously my preparation towards how I actually want to call it versus suggesting ideas to Frank," Brown said in a press conference Thursday. "Now, I'm just the only one communicating. But other than that, the great thing is I've been performing the same role the entire time, as far as meeting with the staff, game planning, scripting practice, running practice. So that's been the same."

Battle of the first two draft picks

Young and Houston quarterback C.J. Stroud grew up in overlapping circles in Southern California, playing basketball and finding success in football. That followed, as they were taken first and second overall back-to-back in the 2023 draft.

Their friendship continued throughout the pre-draft process and remains to this day, as Young said he roots for Stroud when they aren't playing each other.

The fact they're both quarterbacks, from the same class, and both found enough to success to be drafted 1-2 in this year's draft, prompts natural comparison on the outside. But Young said that's not how he sees it. 

"I try to be, just internally motivated and draw from that and try to run my own race and try to be the best version I can and focus on the stuff that I can control and stuff that I can improve on," Young said. "And, you know, there's never going to be a time that I'm not rooting for CJ, I guess outside of, I guess, obviously this weekend will be the exception.

"I don't want to speak for C.J., but I think the same way; we just both want what's best for each other. We both want each other to be successful."

Monitoring the injury report – on defense

The Panthers will be tasked with defending Stroud and the league's 12th-best offense in terms of yardage, averaging 347.3 yards per game.

The Texans are much more proficient with Stroud through the air (ranked fifth in the league with 258.5 yards per game), so Carolina's defense has a challenge ahead – especially with the number of injuries the group is still nursing.

Outside linebacker Brian Burns was added to the injury report Thursday with an elbow issue, and he didn't practice Friday before the Houston game and was listed as questionable. His status adds to a laundry list of defensive mainstays who are battling through injuries at this point of the year.

Veteran linebacker Shaq Thompson has remained on injured reserve (broken fibula) since Week 2; cornerback Jaycee Horn (hamstring) has been on injured reserve since leaving the Atlanta game in Week 1, and outside linebacker Marquis Haynes Sr. has been on IR all season as he works through a back injury.

Regulars Jeremy Chinn (quadriceps) and Yetur Gross-Matos (hamstring) were added to injured reserve this week, ruling them out for the next four games. Safety Vonn Bell continues to work through a quadriceps injury and didn't practice this week.

Perhaps the one positive is in the secondary, where veteran safety and reliable communicator Xavier Woods returned to practice this week after missing time with a hamstring injury.

Austin Corbett

Austin Corbett's availability

The Panthers' starting right guard was activated off the physically unable to perform list this week, setting him up for return along an offensive line in need of veteran experience.

Austin Corbett would slide in between Bradley Bozeman and Taylor Moton and provide an extra boost along the interior, where injuries to Brady Christensen (on season-ending injured reserve with a biceps injury) and Chandler Zavala (a rookie recovering from a neck stinger) prompted Calvin Throckmorton and Cade Mays to take more featured roles. Throckmorton will start at left guard this week.

But Corbett has added more than just strong play on the practice field.

He also brings leadership, and Brown knows a lot about that since they overlapped with the Rams a few years ago.

"Vocal leadership; he's also a leader by example, obviously having an opportunity to be around him before in LA," Brown said. "Love what he brings to the table from a talent standpoint. Talking about how the O-line position is kind of built, it's about being downright nasty at times. And he's a physical player, throws into the point of contact, but also extremely smart as well. So excited about him being back in the mix."

Hall of Honor Weekend

If you come to the Houston game in-person, you'll be able to watch as the Panthers add two more names to their Hall of Honor: Muhsin Muhammad and Julius Peppers.

We'll have continued coverage this weekend, in addition to the work already posted (videos, articles, photos, and more) here on 

You can check out the Panthers' full Hall of Honor page here as you get ready for the game.

View photos from the Panthers' practice on Wednesday.

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