The things that new offensive coordinator Joe Brady is saying about what’s coming to Carolina should have Panthers fans extremely excited for what the 2020 offense will look like on a weekly basis in Carolina – it would appear that the 30-year old former LSU passing game coordinator will bring a fresh set of eyes and a pragmatic, process-based approach to the Panthers offense.
“At LSU…we found what our players did well, and we put them in position to have success,” Brady said during his introductory press conference. “We weren’t just running plays to run plays. We were looking to find out what our guys do well. And that takes time.
“It’s hard to label an offense anymore these days. You talk about a West Coast system, you talk about a spread system. Everybody kind of has put their own stamp on who they are and what they are. Our system is going to be what our players do best [and] I think that changes year to year. I think that changes based upon what you have.”
“At the end of the day, it’s all about a vision that you have for your players.”
Aside from the wholesale changes that not just Brady, but new head coach Matt Rhule and the rest of the coaching staff currently under construction, are expected to bring to the latest iteration of ‘Panthers Football’ will bring, there are specific pieces already on the Panthers roster that should be particularly excited about what Brady can bring for them. Let’s take a look at who stands to gain the most – and who might be in for a reduced role – in Joe Brady’s offensive vision.
While Brady’s methods may have been unusual as a wide receivers coach at LSU – he reportedly had players wearing black face guards and hiding behind doors to limit their vision during practice to mimic making contested catches – he was clearly successful, as his additions of multiple places to go with the football for Joe Burrow to standard RPOs allowed for two of his receivers to catch over 80 passes and have over 1,500 yards receiving last season after no LSU receiver went over 54 or 900 in the year prior before he arrived.
If Brady believes in taking advantage of his personnel and putting those players in the best position to be successful, expect to see Moore with the ball in his hands as the ability to create as the second-year wideout had the 11th most YAC among wide receivers last season despite sitting out the final two games of the season with a concussion. While the 2018 first-round pick finished the season in the top ten in terms of both yardage and receptions last season, he also made his catches count – Moore had the fifth-most receptions that resulted in a first down among wide receivers.
One of the things pass catchers raved about at LSU was Brady’s ability to scheme them into space and spread the defense out – while Moore had a 55.6% catch rate on 27 contested targets, he’ll likely be excited about the opportunity to get the ball in his hands with some room to operate.
After being named the training camp MVP and appearing poised for a breakout season, Samuel had only 54 catches for 627 yards and six scores in his third season – but while at first glance he didn’t make the leap in 2019, the biggest question – that of whether or not he could stay healthy for a full season after issues plagued him throughout his first two seasons – was answered as Samuel played not only all 16 games, but had the fourth-highest snap percentage (85.8%) of Panthers offensive players.
Chalk some of Samuel’s struggles this season up to quarterback play – Over 60% of his total targets were deemed uncatchable according to Player Profiler, despite Samuel having 1.75 yards of separation at the moment the ball got to him; Samuel averaged over 14 air yards per target, which means the Panthers used him to stretch the defense – often unsuccessfully. Last season at LSU, Joe Burrow completed 33-of-56 (58.9%) of targets more than 20+ yards downfield for 1,166 yards, 18 touchdowns, and two interceptions – he also finished second nationally in terms of completions of 10+ yards, 20+ yards, and 60+ yards.
Some of this was obviously due to Burrow’s talent, but considering the jump in overall completion percentage once Brady arrived (57.8% in 2018 vs. 76.3% in 2019), at least some of that was due to scheme. Besides being a deep threat, Samuel was effective in the red zone – all six of his scores came from inside of the 20, so expect Samuel’s role – and effectiveness – to increase significantly in 2020.
With Greg Olsen’s future up in the air, the Panthers may look to Thomas to take a much larger role in 2020 – Brady certainly utilized the tight end in 2019 as Thaddeus Moss, son of NFL legend Randy Moss, set LSU positional records for both receptions (38) and receiving yards (570) at tight end in addition to four touchdowns; Moss also had five catches for 36 yards and a pair of scores in the team’s National Championship win over Clemson.
Thomas showed consistent improvement in route running, blocking and other traits in limited playing time last season, but if Olsen retires or moves on to another team – he indicated before the season ended that he would not be interested in coming back to a rebuilding Panthers team, though he acknowledged that decision would likely be taken out of his hands and made by Marty Hurney and Matt Rhule – the position would likely be left to Thomas, whose 6-3, 260-pound build and raw talent could be a perfect fit into an offense that utilizes it’s tight ends like wide receivers.
While Brady has said that he’ll use the talents available to him, Armah’s role as a fullback may be disappearing if Brady brings the spread offense to the Panthers…fullback was not a position utilized at LSU last season – Tory Carter, who started four games and played in 12 in 2018 as a fullback, was listed as ‘a converted fullback who plays tight end and special teams’ on the LSU team site and registered only two receptions in limited offensive snaps last season.
“We have to have five guys – and potentially six with the quarterback – that defenses will have to worry about on any given snap,” Brady told Max Henson.
While Armah has experience at tight end after practicing all of the past two seasons with the tight end group and position coach Pete Hoener for the past two seasons, defenses didn’t necessarily have to account for Armah last season as he touched the ball only eight times total; but much like Carter last season at LSU, Armah will have to continue to prove his worth on special teams, where he played the second-most snaps on the team last season, behind only Jermaine Carter, Jr. The same likely applies to Chris Manhertz, as the days of the ‘blocking specialist’ in Carolina may have gone out with Ron Rivera.
Brady was asked about multiple players at his introductory press conference and gently sidestepped all of the questions, saying that he hadn’t watched enough film of the Panthers to form an educated opinion. Well, all except for one player:
“Talking personnel would be an injustice,” said Brady. “But look, everyone knows Christian McCaffrey, so I’m excited to see what he does well and be able to work with him.”
If Brady truly wants to find out what his players do well and utilize them, McCaffrey will certainly makes his job a lot easier as the running back had one of the best seasons in the history of the NFL, going over 1,000 yards rushing and receiving while breaking his own record for receptions in a season for a running back.
Imagining a bunch set with Moore, Samuel and McCaffrey will have Brady’s mind whirling this offseason – and will be terrifying for opposing defenses.
While the quarterback situation is certainly up in the air with trade rumors about the Panthers’ franchise quarterback circulating since before he was placed on injured reserve last November and subsequently underwent surgery to repair a Lisfranc injury, Brady wasn’t ready to go into specifics. He took the same road as his boss Matt Rhule and sidestepped the obvious questions asked about Cam Newton.
“I wish I could give you – I haven’t even had the opportunity to check out the film, especially [being] at the college level this past season,” said Brady. “I’m excited to get in contact with Cam, with Kyle, with Will and I know we have a great group of guys and I’m excited to get in touch with them and see the direction.”
While Brady obviously isn’t afraid to use the threat of a quarterback run to spread the defense, last year at LSU, Joe Burrow actually had less carries (115 for 369 yards in 2019) than he did his junior season (128 for 399 yards) in two fewer games; obviously, that doesn’t mean that Brady won’t adjust if he has a weapon like Cam Newton in the backfield.
Whether it’s one of the quarterbacks currently on the roster or a new addition under center come September – or rather, out of the shotgun – Brady’s impressive work with Burrow last season will have fans salivating at what he can do at the next level. The 2019 Broyles Award winner helped turned the LSU offense from 65th in the nation in passing efficiency into the second-best in the country and helped Burrow set the record for most touchdowns in FBS history in a single season.
Imagine what he can do at this level – the players in the locker room certainly are.