CHARLOTTE – It's time for another change in Carolina, and this time it's Will Grier's turn. Interim head coach Perry Fewell announced on Thursday that the rookie quarterback will start against the Colts on Sunday.
After being drafted in the third round of last year's draft, Grier has followed a "traditional" development process, slowly adapting to life as an NFL quarterback rather than being immediately thrust into action.
But after six straight losses with Kyle Allen at quarterback, the Panthers decided it was finally time to test Grier's progress – and the rookie says he's ready.
"I'm extremely excited just to be able to get that game experience," Grier said. "I'm excited to actually play in a real game, to play a full game, to go through different times, just what a game really is."
When Grier steps under center on Sunday, it'll be the first time he's done so as a Panther since the preseason finale back in August. Since then, he's been biding his time as the show team quarterback, emulating opposing quarterbacks in practice and working individually with offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Scott Turner.
This approach has allowed Grier to spend some time focusing on developing himself as a quarterback rather than constantly diving straight into the next week's opponent. For Grier, being relegated to the backseat was a whole new experience.
"Being a backup is very different, just in general," Grier said. "There's opportunity for you to get better in a lot of areas that you can't necessarily get better in while you're playing. That's something that I've toyed with and tried to learn is how can I get better without taking these reps?"
One of the ways Grier found he could improve was in his understanding of the Panthers playbook, and how offenses are schematically different in the NFL than in college. After spending the last two years slinging deep balls at West Virginia, Grier has come to realize that might not translate directly to the professional level.
"You don't always have to take a shot on every play," Grier said. "A lot of my West Virginia tape is me throwing the ball downfield every play, and a lot of that is not necessarily going to work in the NFL."
That's something Fewell can appreciate. Just because Grier has a strong arm, Fewell said it doesn't mean he needs to show it off every play.
"It's all about decision making. Take what the defense gives," Fewell said. "I love his arm. He's got a cannon, but sometimes the coverage doesn't allow you to throw that deep ball, so take what the defense gives you. Protect the football. A punt is not a bad thing. Let's establish some drives and move the ball down the field."
According to Turner, the key to Grier's success on Sunday will be playing within the Panthers' system. Whether it's throwing deep to wide receiver DJ Moore or checking it down to running back Christian McCaffrey in the flat, Turner said Grier has to focus on taking what the defense gives him.
"The biggest thing I talk to these guys all the time about is, it's just football," Turner said. "It's bigger, faster, stronger, all the stuff, but it's the game he's been playing his whole life. I want him to feel comfortable and really just run our offense."
Although Grier hasn't had that experience running the offense in the regular season, Turner said he does have a unique advantage over most rookie quarterbacks who are called into action this late in the season.
"The thing that Will has the advantage of is over OTAs and training camp, he did get reps with the first team," Turner explained. "Him and Kyle were competing to see who the backup was, so we were rotating those guys and Cam would sit out every once in a while. Although it wasn't a ton, it's more than a normal guy would have in this situation. He's got to draw back on those and he's got to make the most of the reps he's got in practice this week."
Since then, Grier hadn't worked with the ones until Wednesday's practice, so this week has been all about getting back in synch with the first teamers.
"It's been a while since I've really gotten to throw to the ones, get the timing down with those guys," Grier said. "It's been good just getting those reps and trying to get ready.
"It's really putting in play everything I've learned this season and actually getting to do it and rep it and just trying to focus on fine tuning things and get ready to go on Sunday."
While Grier has done his best to keep his routine the same this week, it's impossible to keep everything the same, so naturally a few have changed. A little extra film study here, a little extra stretching there. But Grier said there has been one major change – at least it feels that way.
"The week feels a lot shorter now to me."