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Carolina Panthers

With draft in the books, the Panthers turn attention to competition

Frank Reich

CHARLOTTE — The Panthers did a lot more than just add quarterback Bryce Young to the mix this weekend.

With another four picks over the last two days, they also added some needed competition to a number of spots, to the point that new coach Frank Reich feels pretty good about putting a starting lineup on the field.

But before they get there, there are still a number of spots where players will have to earn those jobs.

Other than quarterback, if there was a big question mark on the roster entering the weekend, it was at the outside linebacker spot opposite Brian Burns.

But after seeing a three-day minicamp with Marquis Haynes Sr., Yetur Gross-Matos, and Amaré Barno, and then adding DJ Johnson in the third round, Reich said he was confident they had a starter on hand.

"Yes. Yes, we are," Reich said. "And we're very confident that it'll be competitive, right? I mean, that's what we want to do. We want to create competition at every spot. Nothing's a given.

"When you're a new staff, that's a luxury that you're afforded even more than normal. Everybody knows that. We're all on notice. Everybody knows that. This is a fresh start for everybody. So I think you play off that excitement, you open it up, you compete for that spot. And that's what we'll do."

As it pertains to the outside linebacker position, there won't be a clear single answer to the question for months. But by adding talent in free agency and the draft with this new coaching staff, they like their chances.

The receiver room was a little thin after trading DJ Moore to Chicago to get to the top pick. So general manager Scott Fitterer responded quickly by signing Adam Thielen and DJ Chark Jr. and drafting Jonathan Mingo in the second round.

The starting offensive line returns intact after they re-signed free agent Bradley Bozeman, but with starting guards Austin Corbett and Brady Christensen coming off injuries in the regular season finale (Corbett could miss regular season time as he recovers from a torn ACL), they made moves.

They signed veteran free agent Justin McCray and then drafted guard Chandler Zavala in the fourth round to add talent there. The Panthers only used two different starting lineups last year (after using 13 in 17 games in 2021), but that's rare, so having options was a necessity.

"It's no secret; everybody knows you need depth," Reich said. "And you need competition. Obviously, with Corbett's injury, he's going to be missing time at the beginning of the year. You know, Scott and I talked about we needed to find somebody to come in there and compete and find the right mix in the interior. So that'll play itself out over the next few months and in training camp."

Even Young is going to have to prove himself, as Reich said they'd start him out behind veteran quarterback Andy Dalton at first while he learns, though the expectation is that he'll take over quickly.

Because make no mistake, for all the other picks this weekend, this draft, and this new administration, will largely be linked to Young and how quickly he progresses.

"I do think it's a reality," Reich said. "You know, I think we tend to think of this as a collaborative thing. You understand head coach-quarterback is a unique connection. The fact that I played the position, I embrace that. That's kind of fun. In fact, I told Bryce yesterday, you know that our relationship as head coach and quarterback has to be strong. Now I feel that way with all the players, but it's unique, plus play caller-quarterback, that's another element of it.

"So we want to develop that relationship and for it to be as strong as it can be. And certainly this success, or whatever happens in the coming years, we're all linked together on that, right? Scott and I are at the front of that as GM and head coach, but obviously, quarterback being a big part of that.

"It's a big deal. Embrace that challenge. And we look forward to that. We're excited about that."

View photos of Oregon outside linebacker DJ Johnson, drafted by Carolina in the third round of the 2023 draft.

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