SPARTANBURG, S.C. — Early during team drills Monday during the Panthers’ first full-pads practice, Bryce Young made the type of mistake he’d mostly avoided during three seasons at Alabama and one week at training camp.
With the pocket collapsing around him, the No. 1 pick from April’s draft tried to beat the rush by throwing the ball into the middle of the field to no one, at least no one in an offensive jersey. Inside linebacker Frankie Luvu made the easy interception.
Young then finished that set of 11-on-11 plays with three consecutive completions. And about 10 or 15 minutes later, the 5-foot-10 quarterback uncorked a beautiful deep ball to speed receiver DJ Chark for a long completion during a seven-on-seven set.
Panthers coach Frank Reich said he didn’t see Young’s interception because he was watching the Z receiver after coaches added a wrinkle to his route. But Reich saw how Young responded after the pick — his third in as many practices — and was not surprised.
“He’s pretty unflappable,” Reich said. “Whether he’s throwing a deep ball for a 40-yard gain or the one or two interceptions he’s thrown, you move on to the next play. That’s gotta be the mentality.”
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Reich, who played 13 NFL seasons as a backup quarterback, hasn’t felt the need to talk with Young about handling adversity.
“But if you did, in this league if you can’t handle that, then it’s a long road ahead,” Reich added. “Because you’re gonna make mistakes. You’re gonna throw interceptions. So you just need to learn to move on to the next play.”
Young completed 8-of-12 passes during the team portion of practice. Besides the bomb to Chark, Young’s most impressive throw was a dart to tight end Hayden Hurst into a tight window between Luvu and reserve cornerback Herb Miller.
Taylor Moton, the Panthers’ right tackle, became the latest veteran to praise Young for his makeup and the way the 22-year-old carries himself.
“It’s a humble confidence. I describe humble confidence as knowing that if you’re at your best no one can beat you. But anyone can beat you if you’re not,” Moton said.
“I see it and recognize he’s got all the confidence in the world when he steps in that huddle. But he’s so dialed in knowing that if he’s not, anything can happen. And I think it resonates with the rest of the group.”
Jackson back in the action
The first day in pads is something of a benchmark at NFL training camps every summer, although Panthers cornerback Donte Jackson said it’s a bigger deal for the big guys. “Not as exciting as (for) a linebacker but it’s fun,” Jackson said, smiling.
Jackson is just glad to be on the practice field — full pads or otherwise — after a tough recovery from Achilles surgery. Jackson, one of the team’s most talkative players with a big personality, compared the rehab process to being in a “dark hole” at times and admitted he struggled with the mental part of returning from injury.
“I spent a lot of the process, a lot of those nine months off, beating myself up, thinking I’ll never be the same. I’ll never be able to do this, I’ll never be able to do that,” Jackson said. “Just to be out here doing everything I didn’t give myself credit to do, I’m just blessed.”
Jackson was sidelined for OTAs and minicamp but did a lot of straight-line sprinting during the summer. His last couple of hurdles were making breaks out of his backpedal and changing directions, which he cleared at Wofford.
“I kind of had a breakthrough the other day after doing one move,” Jackson said. “And I’m like, yeah, I feel good.”
Reich said Jackson, a second-round pick from LSU in 2018, brings a blend of speed, instincts and confidence to the cornerback room. But the Panthers want to be smart managing his workload.
“Just getting to know him, I’m excited. He’s got that way about him, got some confidence to him,” Reich said. “Just keep him healthy and keep progressing him. He’s full speed, you see it. Just getting him as far as volume, where he can be on the field more and more.”
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What addition of Deion Jones means
The Panthers arrived at Spartanburg with an eye on adding depth at inside linebacker behind starters Shaq Thompson and Luvu. They did so a week later after agreeing to terms with veteran Deion Jones, the former Falcon who’s topped 100 tackles in five of his seven seasons. Jones worked out for the Panthers after their Monday practice.
Jones, the Falcons’ second-round pick out of LSU, was third in Defensive Rookie of the Year voting in 2016 and earned his only Pro Bowl berth the following season. Jones had a big hit on Cam Newton on a two-point conversion play in 2016 that knocked the Panthers’ quarterback out of the game and landed him in the concussion protocol. Jones has 12 career interceptions, returning five for touchdowns.
Jones began the 2022 season on injured reserve following offseason shoulder surgery. Atlanta traded Jones to Cleveland in October, and the 6-1, 227-pounder appeared in 11 games for the Browns, with five starts. Shortly after Cleveland acquired him, Jones and the Browns agreed to terminate the final year of his contract, making him a free agent in 2023.
The Panthers signed veteran linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill during the offseason, and the former Eagle started camp with a bang by intercepting Andy Dalton in each of the first two practices. But the team has been looking for more out of Brandon Smith, drafted in the fourth round in 2022 despite so-so production at Penn State.
Reich didn’t mention Smith when discussing the position Monday. “Shaq and Frankie, Kamu — it’s a good group,” he said. “But we need depth. It’s a long season. Deion’s been a good player.”
(Top photo of Bryce Young: Jim Dedmon / USA Today)
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