Walking into the first training camp session of 2023, it felt the same. The parking lot was the same. The walk down to the fields was the same. The drive down 85 was filled with the same terrible construction that has seemingly been going on since Frank Reich was under center and not on the sidelines.
But as soon as you turned the corner, it was different.
Different because the fence separating the hill from the field was draped with jerseys of the star quarterback of the Carolina Panthers – that hadn’t happened since the 2019 season. Different because it was over an hour before practice began and there was already a buzz in the air and a few hundred fans waiting for the team to emerge from the locker room. Different because optimism, hope, good vibes – whatever you want to call it, it was living in Spartanburg as the Carolina Panthers brought a new coaching staff, a new quarterback and darn near an entirely new batch of skill players to Spartanburg.
Marcus Smith – a dedicated Roaring Riot member and Spartanburg native – arrived at 5:30a for a 10a practice. Because that’s what you do when you’re witnessing the start of a new era of Panthers football.
And when the quarterback emerged to officially kick off that new era, he bounded down the hill as fans screamed his name – that wasn’t necessarily the case the past few seasons – and trotted out to practice, he certainly looked the part of QB1. Reich had bestowed that moniker upon him and it was no surprise to see him taking the majority of snaps, not just the first ones, in team drills; what was surprising was the ease in which he took those snaps. Young didn’t miss many throws and had some dazzlers throughout the 90 minute practice, much of which was spent in 11-on-11 drills, including a tight window deep shot to DJ Chark and beautiful play where he rolled to his right and hit a sliding Adam Thielen on a deep over near the sideline.
Beautiful roll out and throw here to Adam Thielen from Bryce Young 💯pic.twitter.com/n9s9gki4mc
— Michael Rimmer (@avl_mike) July 26, 2023
He’ll make mistakes and look like a rookie a bunch this season, make no mistake. But for a few plays, he didn’t look like a rookie during his first practice – he looked different.
“He’s got this quiet demeanor….but this is a grown man,” Frank Reich said after practice of his rookie quarterback. “He knows what he wants and how he wants it done and I think that’s a good place to start from.”
Here were some other things I noticed during the Panthers first training camp session of the season:
- Miles Sanders wins the “First to Practice” Award – a lot of talk this year (at least in the fantasy football community) will be whether or not Sanders gets the three-down workload; it should be noted that the first play of practice was a handoff to Sanders that the new addition cut back and would have had a huge gain on had it actually counted. It should also be noted that both Chuba Hubbard and Raheem Blackshear look noticeably bulkier than they did last season.
- Bryce Young looked very comfortable in the pocket – maybe that’s easier when you can’t get hit – and started his day with two completions to Adam Thielen. There is a quick rapport being established between the rookie QB and veteran wide receiver, which is no surprise.
- In one of the coolest new additions to training camp, the Panthers have installed a “Kids Autograph Zone” along the fence that will remain for the remainder of camp – let’s hope it stays adult-free.
- Panthers had Laviska Shenault lined up all over the field and it will be interesting to see if Frank Reich and Thomas Brown want to use him in a gadget-type role. Shenault had a leaping reception over the middle of the field during 11-on-11s and is quickly becoming a fan favorite. If he starts getting some routes other than the “run him in an orbit motion and throw him a quick hitter”, he might be a difference-maker.
- Andy Dalton hit former Utah State WR Derek Wright on a deep sideline ball that would have gone for 6 in a real game — there wasn’t a defender within five yards of Wright. With the Panthers taking it easy on both Donte Jackson and Jaycee Horn – both of whom were deemed ‘full go’s’ for training camp – in terms of reps, CJ Henderson, Keith Taylor and others in the secondary will need to show more than they did today. Lots of open receivers made it easier for Young, so Panthers will take the good with the bad. However, when other QBs (like Aaron Rodgers) see this secondary with 8 or 26 on the sidelines, they will be licking their chops.
LB Kamu Grugier-Hill picks off Andy Dalton pic.twitter.com/WX3esp4eD1
— =͟͟͞Blande (@JustBlande) July 26, 2023
- LB Kamu Grugler-Hill had a ‘phenomenal’ interception – emphasis via Frank Reich – on an Andy Dalton sideline look; if the Panthers can get quality snaps from Grugler-Hill in the linebacker rotation, that will really help them. He’ll certainly be an impact player on special teams – that’s how he made his money in previous stints with the Texans and Eagles – but Panthers will need someone to spell Shaq Thompson or Frankie Luvu during the season. Can KGH (I’m deeming that his nickname) be that guy?
- This bullet point is entitled “Guys Who Look Big”: the aforementioned Blackshear and Hubbard; DT Marquan McCall (he’s going to play in Evero’s scheme), Stephen Sullivan, Laviska Shenault, Cade Mays (probably playing guard until Austin Corbett returns, FYI); Vonn Bell, Jeremy Chinn.
- Brian Burns – despite being in the middle of a contract negotiation – was back in his first action of the offseason after an ankle procedure earlier this offseason; said it was good to be back and never considered holding out, which his fellow “about to get paid edge rusher” Nick Bosa is doing in San Francisco. “I was gonna show up mainly because I missed being with my defense,” said Burns. “I feel like what we’ve got building is bigger than that.” Also, there’s this dope SPIDA visor:
- There was a false start and no one ran to any signs or were screamed at by the coaches. They just lined up and ran it again. That was different.