Panthers preseason finale: Bryce Young needs sliding practice and 13 other things I learned

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Bryce Young showed everything he needed to in the Carolina Panthers’ exhibition finale Friday night — except an ability to slide.

When Young took off for a 13-yard scramble in the first quarter of the Detroit Lions’ 26-17 win, he spied a pair of defensive backs bearing down on him … and sat down on Bank of America Stadium’s artificial turf. Young checked nearly every box during his first NFL preseason. He’ll have to perfect sliding before the Panthers go to Atlanta on Sept. 10.

“I never claimed for it to be one of my strong suits,” Young said. “I never played baseball, so never really learned that. A lot of room for improvement.”

Young joked that he’s pretty sure the Panthers already have sliding lessons scheduled, with second-year quarterback Matt Corral suggesting Josh McCown would lead them.

“We’re going to bring out the tarp and the soap and the water,” Corral said, laughing.

Young’s sit-down scramble came three plays before the No. 1 overall pick floated a perfectly placed spiral to Adam Thielen for a 16-yard touchdown, the first for the Panthers’ first-team offense this preseason.

Young completed 7-of-12 passes — matching his line from the first two preseason games combined — for 73 yards. Young found a nice rhythm with the veteran Thielen, who caught four of five targets for 48 yards on a night when three receivers (Laviska Shenault, Terrace Marshall, DJ Chark) were sidelined with injuries.

“Any time you have an opportunity to get on the same page it’s important,” Thielen said.

While the Panthers could laugh about Young’s poor sliding form, they also want to keep him healthy while still having him make the occasional play with his feet. The 2021 Heisman Trophy winner was known for his pocket mobility at Alabama, where he didn’t do much in the way of called runs.

Young had only one carry — for one yard — in the first two exhibitions. But he picked up 21 yards on three scrambles Friday. All three produced first downs, with two converting third-down situations.

“Any time when the plays aren’t there and you can extend drives by using his feet, that’s demoralizing to defenses,” Thielen said “They make a good call or have good coverage and we still get the first down. That’s huge. That really amplifies the offense. We knew that he could do that and we knew that was a weapon of his. We’re going to need that moving forward.”

Thirteen other things I learned Friday, besides the need for Young’s sliding lessons:

1. The Panthers might have an Ickey Ekwonu problem. Last year’s sixth overall pick bounced back from a rough baptism vs. Myles Garrett in Week 1 last year to post a solid rookie season. But the Panthers gave the left tackle a lot of help with extra blockers in 2022. They’d like to limit those situations but Ekwonu has not inspired confidence during the preseason. When Ekwonu let edge rusher James Houston get past him for a sack on the Panthers’ first possession, it marked the second sack and fourth pressure he’s allowed in three exhibitions.

2. I wouldn’t necessarily say the Panthers found their power back but Spencer Brown at least showed he’s capable of picking up tough yards. The second-year back from UAB bulled his way in for a 4-yard touchdown in the third quarter, with the help of a pile push by veteran lineman Justin McCray. The 6-foot, 220-pound Brown added a 3-yard gain on third-and-2 in the fourth quarter. “I try to add more elements to my game,” said Brown, who had a good preseason. “But if I’ve gotta be a power back, that’s just what it’s gotta be.”

Spencer Brown ran for 51 yards on 13 carries with a touchdown. (Bob Donnan / USA Today)

3. Panthers coach Frank Reich said he’s still not sure if the three injured wideouts will be ready for Week 1. But Shenault said he will be, adding he’s on the fourth step of five in the concussion protocol and expects to practice this week.

4. The Panthers have a good situation at kicker but it’s not a competition. Reich has made it clear Eddy Pineiro, who returned from a groin injury Friday for his first action of the preseason, is the kicker. Period. But the Panthers at least know they have a good emergency kicker in Matthew Wright provided: A) They can’t find a kicker-needy team to trade a conditional, late-round pick for him; or B) Wright goes unsigned after roster cutdowns.

5. The Panthers are expected to begin roster cuts with an initial wave Saturday. Watching who was on the sideline chilling in the second half is a pretty good indicator of who’s safely on the 53. While Derek Wright was among those watching the second-half action Friday, Shi Smith and Javon Wims — two other wideouts on the roster bubble — were still in the game. Wright, undrafted last year out of Utah State, caught a bunch of passes before hurting his knee in the first exhibition. Depending on what the Panthers do on the waiver wire, signs are pointing to Wright being on the initial roster.

6. A couple of recent draft picks looked bad on a 62-yard kickoff return by Khalil Dorsey, who lowered his shoulder into outside linebacker DJ Johnson and knocked him backward and then ran through the tackle attempt of tight end Tommy Tremble. The Panthers traded up to take Johnson in the third round this year, so he’s making the team. Tremble, a third-round pick in 2021, could be a surprise cut as he’s playing for a staff that didn’t draft him.

7. Tremble later had a drop in the second quarter.

8. The Panthers signed veteran cornerback Troy Hill this week and could still be looking for corner depth. Scars from the end of last season remain. The team seems less concerned about CJ Henderson, who had a tough first half against the Lions. Running back Craig Reynolds gave Henderson a shoulder shake and then beat him to the edge on a 10-yard run in the second quarter. Henderson then picked up a pass interference when he hooked Chase Cota around the waist, resulting in a 36-yard penalty and setting up a Lions’ field goal. While Henderson has played well much of the preseason, he still struggles with inconsistency.

9. With Hill among those sitting out, corner Keith Taylor also received a lot of reps with the second and third team. Taylor was in coverage on Antoine Green’s 70-yard touchdown catch from Teddy Bridgewater (2020 flashbacks) late in the second quarter. Green ran a deep crosser and Taylor got caught up in the underneath traffic.

10. Andy Dalton made his Panthers’ preseason debut but didn’t make any friends with his first preseason pass. Dalton threw high in the flat to Shi Smith, who went up for the catch but was drilled in the ribs by Lions rookie cornerback Steven Gilmore. If that name sounds familiar, it should. Gilmore is the younger brother of Dallas Cowboys corner Stephon Gilmore, who grew up in the Charlotte area and played for the Panthers in 2021. The younger Gilmore, who played at Marshall, sealed the win for Detroit with a pick-six of fourth-team QB Jake Luton.

11. Dalton wasn’t exactly sharp in his first action of the preseason. The 13-year vet completed 6-of-11 passes for 60 and was intercepted when he threw behind an open Wims in the end zone.

12. Despite Dalton’s rusty performance, he was signed to back up Young and mentor him. What’s less clear is what the Panthers will do with No. 3 quarterback Matt Corral. “I’ve got no idea,” Corral said on his chances of making the roster. “I’ll just leave that up to the guys upstairs.” Corral was disappointed in accuracy after completing just 4-of-12 passes for 52 yards. But the former Ole Miss standout, who missed his rookie season following foot surgery, broke off a 27-yard scramble that was the Panthers’ longest rush of the preseason. “Left foot is fixed, man!” Corral said afterward. The Panthers are in a rebuild with a young quarterback and a new coaching staff. I’d hang on to a young quarterback on a rookie contract.

13. Former Appalachian State back Cam Peoples had to wait until the third preseason game to get his first carry … and then fumbled on it.  Peoples’ fumble gave the Panthers two turnovers in consecutive offensive plays. Peoples also fumbled on what was likely his last touch with Carolina — a questionable call at the goal line in the final two minutes. Tough game.

(Top photo of Bryce Young and Adam Thielen: Jared C. Tilton / Getty Images)

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