CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- There were times during the Carolina Panthers’ recent rookie camp when protection failed and you got a glimpse of what quarterback Bryce Young does best: break down the defense, improvise and make what coaches call “off-schedule’’ plays.
Offensive coordinator Thomas Brown doesn’t want the No. 1 overall pick of the draft to stop doing that in his spread-formation system, which is a mix of what he brought from his time as an assistant under Los Angeles Rams coach Sean McVay and what Panthers coach Frank Reich used when he coached the Indianapolis Colts.
“You don’t want to take away a guy’s superpower,’’ Brown said with a smile. “Being able to have off-schedule plays was a big part of his game [at Alabama]. ... As long as you operate within the rhythm and timing of the play, it’ll be all good.’’
Quarterbacks coach Josh McCown embraces Young’s ability to make off-schedule plays.
“With guys that can play that way ... there’s some artistry involved, and we understand that,’’ he said. “So like with any great artist, there’s a delicate balance with letting their greatness show but keeping it at a level that is not a detriment to the team.
“What makes him really good is that at the college level he showed a great barometer of when, and when not, to do that. That’s what special players do.’’
Being able to operate within the rhythm of the play, even off-schedule, is what the Panthers call DTA -- decision making, timing and accuracy.
It appears engrained in Young’s DNA, which made him a slam dunk to go No. 1. It goes back to Alabama coach Nick Saban saying Young’s processing is “off the charts.’’
The Panthers are so confident in Young’s ability to process that they designed an offense that allows him to handle much more of the decision making than one might typically toss at a rookie.
“We won’t overdo it,’’ McCown said. “We will go at his pace as far as how we feel Bryce is handling it. [But] you’re right, the ability to process at a high rate allows for some of those things to be expedited.’’
Much of the offense will be out of 11 personnel (1 running back, 1 tight end, 3 wide receivers) something that was prevalent at Alabama (Young), as well as the Rams (Brown) and Colts (Reich).
Young threw for 6,863 of his 7,200 yards and 63 of his 79 touchdowns the past two seasons out of 11 personnel, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Both ranked as the second most in college football out of that formation.
In all, 84% of Young’s dropbacks came out of 11 personnel during that span.
That fits in well with what Reich did at Indianapolis and what Brown learned in Los Angeles.
The Rams used 11 personnel on 87% of their plays, the highest in the NFL the past two seasons. They finished sixth in the NFL in scoring (27 points per game) in 2021 en route to winning the Super Bowl.
In four-plus seasons with the Colts, Reich used 11 personnel 65% of the time. That was the 10th-highest rate in the league during that span.
That was yet another reason Reich was sold on Young from the beginning of the draft process.
“We always like to look at college tape to see what concepts he was really good at that are already in our offense,’’ Reich said.
Another plus for Young is his college experience working with coaches such as Bill O’Brien, the long-time Houston Texans coach who is back as the New England Patriots' offensive coordinator this season after spending the past two years as Alabama’s offensive coordinator.
“Having those guys, having pro experience, you can tell, you can feel that in the way he talks about plays,’’ McCown said.
The biggest difference for Young with about 40% of the Carolina playbook coming from the Rams and the other 60% from Reich is how much he’ll be asked to take snaps under center versus the shotgun.
He had only seven dropbacks out of 1,049 (1 %) the past two seasons in college.
The Rams' quarterback was under center 46% of the time the past two seasons, which was the fifth-highest rate in the league. Reich’s quarterbacks at Indianapolis were under center 30% of the time (the other 70% was shotgun), the 10th-highest rate since 2018.
For perspective, the Panthers under coach Matt Rhule and interim coach Steve Wilks in 2022 had the quarterback under center 46% of the time and used 11 personnel 65% of the time.
Young likely will be under center closer to what Reich is accustomed.
To get him ready, the Panthers spend about 10 minutes at each practice working on the quarterback-center snap exchange. He handled it well in rookie camp.
“Relative to college ... he probably tripled that in rookie minicamp, and those were executed at a high level,’’ McCown said.
“[Senior assistant coach Jim] Caldwell mentioned to me it was kind of the first time he’s been around [a rookie camp] where no balls were on the ground,’’ Brown said. “It’s a huge deal for him.’’
It’s also a huge deal for Reich. He has mentioned repeatedly the importance of protecting the ball, yet another reason Young was attractive as the top pick.
Young had only 12 interceptions to 80 touchdown passes at Alabama.
Neither Brown nor McCown has seen anything to make them believe that will change in the NFL.
Their challenge is not to overload Young.
“The easy thing is to go, ‘Man, he’s so smart, let’s give it to him all,’’’ McCown said. “But let’s do it the right way, let’s set a firm foundation so that when we do it’s efficient.’’