CHARLOTTE — Andy Dalton has no illusions. A month or so short of his 36th birthday, he's old enough to know better than to think the current opportunity is anything other than a short-term one.
Positioned to start Sunday in Seattle since injured rookie Bryce Young isn't practicing and isn't expected to play, Dalton has been taking all the reps with the ones and remembering what it's like again.
"This week been more fun for me, obviously, you know?" Dalton said with a grin on Thursday. "You know, it's always nice because I've had a certain way of operating like my whole career, and I think when you go from starting to being the backup, that's one of the things that you miss. The scout team is one thing, you're looking at a card, and you're running the other team's offense, but when you get a chance to kind of take ownership of what you're doing and to know how you want it to look and how you want it to feel, and you actually get to execute it . . .
"I mean, that's what makes football fun."
That kind of attitude is what the Panthers were looking for when they signed Dalton in March. Everyone knew they were drafting a quarterback first overall, and it was likely to be Young, but they didn't know that then. So they were intentional about backstopping him with a guy with 162 NFL starts on his resume — an entire baseball season's worth of starts — who had been in all these situations. He was also a guy who started from Day 1 as a rookie in Cincinnati (Dalton was a second-round pick, so the expectations were different even if the job wasn't), and that figured to apply to the guy he'd be backing up.
And he's lived up to that since he's been here. Offensive coordinator Thomas Brown marveled at Dalton's willingness to lead in any way he can, from mentoring Young to coaching receivers during offensive installations.
"I knew about Andy before coming here obviously, but he is phenomenal to be around every single day when it comes to his preparation process," Brown said. "He's like a pro in every aspect, the way he communicates to Bryce, but also in the meeting room.
"So to hear him kind of step in and communicate how he sees certain plays, coaching receivers up on from a detailed standpoint is great for all of us, but also just kind of shows the character of the individual."
And when you say those things about Dalton, it makes him sound a little like a stable pony, which is kind of the job description. But it also undersells the fact he's been pretty good in his career as a player himself.
Last year in New Orleans, when he took over for an injured Jamies Winston, he completed 66.7 percent of his passes, had 18 touchdowns and nine interceptions, and a 95.2 passer rating. For his career, he's thrown 244 touchdowns against 144 interceptions and has a career rating of 87.6. So he's always played at a reasonably solid level, but last year was no drop-off. He still averaged 7.6 yards per pass attempt in New Orleans (up from his 7.1 career average), so he can still move the ball downfield. That's been a need for the Panthers, as you may have noticed.
But he also knew he wasn't coming here to play.
Practice squad quarterback Jake Luton, who could be elevated this week to be active since Young's not expected to play, has seen it from Dalton in two cities now. They were together with the Saints last year when Dalton was playing and playing well, and what he's seen here doesn't change his impression.
"He does a great job, and watching him and Bryce operate too, I mean, I think he does a great job both getting himself ready and making sure that we're taken care of," Luton said. "And he's sharing stuff with us and his knowledge, having gone through it. I thought he played really well last season. The numbers reflect that as well, but just, you know, being there week in and week out and watching him play, I thought he played extremely well. There were a lot of plays he made; I mean, it happened every week.
"But the thing about him is he's just so smart, and he's like a step ahead, it seems like all the time. So he knows when to take shots and when not to, and knows where to find guys that maybe aren't in the read, and he does a good job of understanding the defenses and knowing where to get the ball. And so it's been a delight for me just to kind of be around the guy like that and get to watch him play and work."
Again, Dalton gets it. So he shrugged and said he didn't view this as a chance to prove he can still play.
"I've played everywhere I've been, and I've had a significant amount of playing time everywhere," Dalton said. "I had the nine years in Cincinnati, when Dak (Prescott) got hurt (in Dallas in 2020), I got to play a majority of that season as well. Even in Chicago (in 2021), I had some, and then last year too. So, I wouldn't say it's a validation.
"I'm not trying to convince anybody with what I can do. I think for me, once I got here and got to be around the staff and got to be around these players, my whole goal was just to be me and to show them how I operate, how I do things, and, people here have been very receptive of what I've been able to do. And then also taking on the role of helping out Bryce and making sure that we can get him up to speed on everything that he needs to do and needs to know from, you know, all the different aspects of the game.
"So, validation, I wouldn't say that because I know what I'm capable of."
It's the kind of confidence that only comes with time and results, and with three Pro Bowls on the back of his football card, there's evidence of that.
Brown said that would ostensibly help if he plays Sunday in Seattle (and that appears to be the case), since Young hasn't practiced since the injury on Monday.
Dalton's heard the noise, and he has results there, too.
He's 3-1 all-time against the Seahawks and has put up big numbers along the way. Even when he lost there in 2019 with the Bengals (a 21-20 decision), he threw for 418 yards, including 33- and 55-yard touchdowns to vertical threat John Ross. He also beat them at home for the Saints last season, so there's some familiarity with who they are and what they do.
And the attention that's coming this week is nothing new for him, as he has been in similar situations — all of the situations — before.
"My goal is to win," he replied, when someone pressed him on his potential role for Sunday. "Especially here, this is Bryce's thing. I'm not here to make this a competition, make it some thing.
"I'm here to help the team."
View photos from the Panthers' practice on Thursday.