Panther fans we’ve officially made it back for another year of football and back for our annual trip to Spartanburg to watch the Panthers practice at Wofford College for training camp. If the sheer thought of pads popping in August doesn’t get your juices flowing then the Panthers ushering in a complete new coaching staff while also trading up for the first overall pick to land their future at QB should definitely do the job. It was clear that this franchise desperately needed to hit the reset button after a disappointing two and a half year stint by Head Coach Matt Rhule, and after three failed attempts at trading for a QB in free agency. Here we are three months after the draft, and I think we have a pretty good idea of what this team can and will look like in the near and distant future. So without further ado, let’s talk ball!
– QB1: Small guy, huge impact.
It makes sense that after dominating in the SEC and after becoming the #1 overall pick in the NFL draft that Bryce Young has been met with a lot of question marks and scrutiny by fans and media alike since draft day. Largely due to his size (or lack thereof), I guess it’s fair to question if the 5’10 , 195 pound QB could hold up over a 17-game season. That being said, he’s looked nothing short of amazing during his first camp at Spartanburg. And as a rookie QB the poise, anticipation and calmness under pressure and just plain accuracy from the pocket has been on full display all throughout camp. Proving that him being the #1 overall pick back in April was no fluke. He looks to have found and developed a consistent connection with new Panthers WRs D.J. Chark & Adam Thielen while also seeming to have complete control over this new offense. Players and coaches alike echo the same thoughts and that is Bryce is the REAL DEAL!! He has not been perfect and that’s okay. It’s easy to forget he’s a rookie QB at times with how poised he is. But all the same he still has a lot of room to grow as a passer and what rookie QB doesn’t? If I had to leave with a grade of Bryce Young, it would definitely be an A-. The future looks bright here in the 704.
– Concern for the OL and RB
Ladies and gentlemen, we MAY have a problem on our hands. I preface this segment by saying that when healthy, I do believe we have one of the better offensive lines in the NFL and a damn good RB in Miles Sanders. I’ll also double down by saying almost every team in the NFL can make the argument that they are one to two injuries away from potentially having had their team “crippled”.
That being said, I am starting to grow real concerns about the depth that we have at both RB and the OL. Starting with the RB room outside of Miles Sanders I don’t particularly love to depth that we have there. I do believe Sanders will be the focal point of our offense and I do love the strides that Chuba Hubbard has taken from year to year. However, I still believe that we are lacking a short yardage thumper for this offense, and Chuba still struggles with catching the ball out the backfield. Blackshear has flashed some this off-season as our 3rd down back, and maybe with the addition of Laviska Shenault sharing snaps as a runner we can get more production from the RB room as a whole, but don’t know if I’m totally sold on them yet.
A perfect way to pivot to my next point and that is that a lot of this also applies to our offensive line. Having recognized that our front five has been injured for most of the off-season and that we’re still getting guys back like Corbett, Zavala and Bozeman. When healthy I do still believe we will have one of the better OL’s to put Bryce behind this year. It’s just the depth behind that the starters that makes me nervous. For example players like Cade Mays and Sam Tecklenburg HAVE NOT looked good in pass protection. Cam Erving, while he hasn’t been terrible, is still Cam Erving and as my guy Dunc (Twitter: @DuncOnDemand) has pointed out during camp, Michael Jordan has gotten a lot of different looks at backup LT. Hard to say that they have earned my vote of confidence as of right now. But to be fair, during the team portions of camp, they haven’t looked terrible either. Maybe we can blame some of the unit’s struggles on having Burns, Brown and Luvu on the front 7 Defensively. But going into the season it’s definitely something to keep our eyes on is all I’m saying. That being said with Corbett and Bozeman back in the starting lineup I fully expect this unit to return to the top half of the NFL in 2023.
– Defense is as good as advertised
I’d argue that the only thing even remotely close to the excitement that fans have gotten from watching Bryce Young practice during training camp this year was watching our defensive unit as a whole mesh together and challenge the offense on a day to day basis. Both Brian Burns and Derrick Brown have been every bit of unblockable all camp and have taken turns beating the 2nd and 3rd team offensive line all camp. Both also had great days this week against the New York Jets in the team’s joint practice session. I’ve also enjoyed watching our secondary and most importantly the depth we have on our secondary play out. C.J. Henderson has yet again managed to have himself a great camp, with Keith Taylor right behind him. However, the two biggest surprises on the defensive side of the ball have come from the LB room; specifically the outside linebacker group. Free agent addition Kamu Gregier-Hill has been flat out BALLING all camp and has made a play it in almost every single practice. He actually ended yesterday’s practice off with a Pick-6 on Aaron Rodgers and sent his offense packing. Kobe Jones has also been a big addition to that OLB group this off-season and has played really well over 11 practices. Reich and Fitterer will have a lot of tough decisions to make this preseason at the LB position. But I believe that is also may be the deepest position we have on the team which is a great problem to have. The Panthers defense are primed for a huge year in 2023 under new defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero.
Over 11 practices and after attending close to half of them I’m leaving Spartanburg SC super excited for the 2023 season. I truly do believe that this team will be in great hands under Head Coach Frank Reich and with Bryce Young under center. The potential for this team is through the roof. As there’s still a lot of ball to be played and we inch closer to Week 1 where we face the Atlanta Falcons. This upcoming Saturday will be the Panthers 1st preseason game and first real look at this new regime in action. Stay tuned for more as the season progresses because I’m just as excited as you all are.