CHARLOTTE – Frank Reich isn't afraid to feel this enthusiasm now that rookie minicamp has wrapped up.
The Panthers concluded their two-day camp for five new draft picks, undrafted free agent signings, and tryout players on Saturday, and Reich said they expect to sign a couple of new names to the roster before the next step begins.
New faces will unite with the veterans Monday for a team-centered walkthrough before entering another phase of offseason workouts ahead of OTAs and mandatory minicamp later in the spring.
Reich said it's easy for him and his staff to feel motivated ahead of their first practices with their roster. At the same time, he remains realistic about the work ahead.
"I've just found over the years – everyone gets really excited," Reich said. "You've got your team; you're feeling very optimistic about what this team is going to look like, the results you think you're going to get.
"But experience tells me, just make expectations more centered around getting prepared. Don't get caught up in the trap of, 'How many games are we going to win? Who do we play, and when?' That stuff will come. Everybody thinks they know where they are right now. Everybody thinks they have the answers. … You don't know much."
What the Panthers do have is their first overall quarterback, Bryce Young, who Reich said "looked the part" on his first day of minicamp Friday and continued to impress on day two. They have four other draft picks, including second-rounder Jonathan Mingo, who built upon chemistry with his fellow rookie quarterback during Saturday's rookie minicamp.
Reich said they kept it simple across Friday and Saturday, introducing new players to schemes and matching their coaching philosophies to what they've seen on film. He said he didn't see many "mental mistakes" from their rookies or tryout players, which helped make the two days productive.
"We're very excited about the roster we have – really excited," Reich said. "I think that there's a lot of upside, but we don't know yet. And we've got to find out. So now's the time that we build the foundation to give us the best chance, so that when we step out there, we're ready to perform."
– Once the rookies group up with the veterans, Young will be splitting quarterback reps with experienced veteran Andy Dalton, who the Panthers signed in free agency this season.
Reich said Dalton would take the first-team reps starting Monday, while Young will get his time with the twos. Reich acknowledged that the coaching staff would look for the right time to make the transition, but until then, they will take the time – and reps – needed to get Young ready.
"Bryce is going to get a lot of reps – likely even a few more than Andy, just as the new guy," Reich said. "The good thing with Andy is he's logged a lot in the last couple of weeks. And as a savvy veteran, he still needs the work, but we'll focus on getting Bryce, as the younger player – focus on getting him as many reps as we can."
– New linebacker DJ Johnson entered rookie minicamp with a chip on his shoulder.
The Panthers' third-round selection out of Oregon wanted to make it clear he wasn't complacent after his selection and that he spent the last two days putting in work to continue to improve.
"Whenever you go into any new environment, you want to make sure you earn your stripes," Johnson said. "Make sure … you're not just like, 'Oh, I made it.' Like no, I'm here to keep improving, like everybody else."
Johnson said he spent the last two days of minicamp building pro habits, focused on his technique and finding other aspects of his game to improve.
He was added to help a position group looking for another piece to complement Brian Burns off the edge. And he's already enjoying the time he has spent with new defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero.
"He's an intense guy," Johnson said. "But he's still light enough to where he enjoys it. Great to be around. I'm excited to be coached by him."
Check out photos from the Panthers' last day of rookie minicamp on Saturday.