CHARLOTTE — When Panthers interim coach Chris Tabor was asked on Wednesday what he wanted to see from quarterback Bryce Young this week, he mentioned among other things that he wanted him to be "loose."
Practice might have looked largely normal, but Young did not appear loose when he was talking to reporters afterward, admitting the reality of Monday's firings of head coach Frank Reich and quarterbacks coach Josh McCown was weighing for him. Having worked closely with both on a daily basis since he was drafted first overall in April, this is Young's first real taste of the business of the NFL.
"We all take, we all take ownership, especially offensively," Young said Wednesday. "It's all of us. I think we all look in the mirror. There are all things that we could have done better. We all wanted to do better, and it's a collective unit. There's no finger-pointing from players, coaches, nothing. We all could have been better, and we have to improve. . . .
"It's really hard. These are real relationships. These are people's lives, of course. You spend almost double-digit hours a day at times just in the building and day after day after day. So much time is spent, and obviously you build a strong bond and strong relationship over that time. It's hard, it's a really harsh reality of the business, not just Frank, but Josh as well."
Of course, the results are part of the reason they're gone, as the team's 1-10 record and Young's own season made the change necessary. Whether it's his 74.9 passer rating (30th in the league), or the 187.7 passing yards per game, or the 40 sacks he's absorbed (second-most in the league), it clearly hasn't gone according to plan.
But Tabor said one of the priorities this week was to reduce some of the pressure on Young and allow him to play more freely.
"I think he has to be himself," Tabor said. "My message to everybody is let's go out and play and have some fun, play loose. Not reckless, but play loose. Hey, here's my chips. I'm all in. So let's go, and I think that can be comforting to players.
"And he's going to play well; I just know he will."
Tabor stressed the "normal" nature of Wednesday's practice, and because of the compartmentalized nature of the NFL, it kind of has to be. So, with the Buccaneers up next, they at least get to shift their gaze from their shoes to the practice field. (The Bucs have their own problems, as they're 4-7, 27th in the league in total defense and 31st in pass defense.)
"It's just lean on everyone in the locker room, the people that are here," Young said. "These are tough and trying times; these are hard times. But ultimately, we play for each other in that locker room. Just working with everyone every day. I have a tremendous amount of respect for all my teammates, all the people that are here, and we have to rely on each other, we have to lean on each other, and we don't want to let each other down. Now, we want to push each other."
As soon as Tabor took over, he admitted he was going to get into much detail about game-planning. And frankly, that has to make it tougher on the Bucs since the offense they're preparing would ostensibly be anything other than what it was the last month and a half (the Panthers haven't scored more than 15 points in a game since the bye). And while Young said there are likely some "little tweaks," the personnel is the same, and offensive coordinator Thomas Brown and senior assistant Jim Caldwell have been here the whole time.
"With the changes of leadership, change in roles, of course, things are going to look a little different," Young said. "But, you know, I believe in everyone here. And we had to practice. So, time will tell as far as what the results are.
"But, again, I believe in everyone in the organization, my teammates, and everything. Obviously, we're going to do everything we can to be better and to push and get that to translate into results. But we have to earn that right. We have to earn the right to have more success in the future."
Of course, the natural conclusion to draw from Monday's move was that Young's progress was part of the reason Reich's no longer here, but one of Tabor's tasks in the short term appears to be reminding Young that he's not solely responsible for this.
"Making progress for next year, I think what you want to see," Tabor said. "And I know we keep focusing in on Bryce, and I understand your question, but what I would say to you is this is really, we want to see all the players get better and you can't just focus in on one guy. I understand that he's the quarterback and he's the number one pick. I understand all that, but we also want to see Bozeman improve. We want to see Chark improve and I think you have to work that collectively together.
"So that's our focus. Because when these guys are getting better out here, so is Bryce and as Bryce is getting better, these guys should be getting better. It all works hand in hand. This is, in my opinion, the greatest team game in the world. There are 11 guys out there, and 10 of them can do a great job, but if one of them messes up, then it doesn't work. So we're trying to improve everybody."
View photos from the Panthers' practice on Wednesday.