Panthers, needing an offensive spark, digging deep in hopes of finding comfort zone for rookie Bryce Young

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The Carolina Panthers went all-in on Bryce Young at the top of the NFL Draft with an all-star coaching staff. Halfway through the season, Carolina has one win to show for it.

Head coach Frank Reich handed over offensive play-calling duties to offensive coordinator Thomas Brown ahead of Week 8 just to take it back this week amid continued offensive struggles — a rare and stunning move.

This week, according to sources, the Panthers dug into the Alabama archives to continue finding plays that suit what Young does well. It’s not the first time they’ve done it this season, and it’s not unusual for a coaching staff to look back at what worked in college for a rookie quarterback.

But the move shows Carolina is more than willing to do what it needs to right the ship in a 1-8 year with a home game against the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday.

Because Carolina went all-in on Young, the thinking is that the team should create its system around what he does best. The team sent a 2024 first-round pick, a 2025 second-round pick and No. 1 wide receiver D.J. Moore to Chicago for the opportunity to draft Young.

When a team gives up that much for a player, there’s no getting around it. Almost no matter how Young plays or how good or bad the play-calling is, the two sides are stuck together for a minimum of two years. So, the source says, why not build around him more?

But an issue for Carolina has been its lack of offensive identity. The blending of offensive schemes and philosophies have taken time that Carolina doesn’t have, and that’s shown on the field.

Young has been in shotgun in 89 percent of his plays, which is just 10th highest among quarterbacks who have thrown at least 50 pass attempts this season. They’ve kept him in the pocket, too. Young has thrown on the run 12.1 percent of the time, below the league average, and the Panthers use motion on just 41.2 percent of their plays, which is the fifth-lowest rate in a league where motion takes place more than half of all snaps.  

One source said Young’s strengths are being in shotgun and running up-tempo plays with quick game splashed in. According to TruMedia, Carolina averages 28.1 seconds off the play clock per play, which is 11th fastest in a league that averages 28.5 seconds. So there’s still room to speed up that process.

The issues in Carolina aren’t solely on the offense. The defense has given up 26 touchdowns so far this season, fifth-most in the league. And opponents have produced points on all but one red-zone drive this season.

With the Cowboys coming to Bank of America Stadium on Sunday, the Panthers have prepared this week with the silent count. The team would probably yearn for an apathetic Charlotte crowd that will instead be replaced by Cowboys fans throughout the stadium.

As one league source pointed out, the last time an opponent took over the stadium, a head coach got fired. In Week 5 last season, Carolina lost 37-15 at home to the 49ers, and Matt Rhule was dismissed shortly after.

To be clear, no source that has spoken to CBS Sports anticipates or believes Reich would be fired after Sunday’s game regardless of outcome. But an embarrassment, at home, in a lost season, in what is another losing season under Tepper’s ownership, coming in a year where Carolina promised to compete for the division crown, surely won’t sit well with an owner who has grown a reputation for being impatient.

Less than two weeks ago Tepper fired the head coach of his Charlotte FC soccer team, and he’s now looking for a third head coach heading into the team’s third season. Tepper has previously fired head coach Ron Rivera, general manager Marty Hurney and the aforementioned Rhule, and a host of executives have seen their way out voluntarily or otherwise in Tepper’s time there.

“Some sharks are out here wanting this job,” one league source said.

Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson was considered the frontrunner for the Carolina job last year before pulling out and staying in Detroit. Tepper had his eye on an offensive coach, and the lack of experience on Rhule’s staff helped color Tepper’s view that he needed a veteran-laden staff the next time around.

With Reich on board, the team hired Thomas Brown as offensive coordinator, Josh McCown as a first-time quarterbacks coach and Jim Caldwell as a senior assistant. Reich would call plays to begin, but he would eventually hand the play-calling duties over to Brown. No timeline for that was ever publicly established, but some sources believed it would take until at least the midway point of the first year and maybe even the start of the second season.

That lasted until Carolina’s Week 7 bye. At 0-6, Reich gave the headset to Brown. Carolina got a 15-13 win against Houston at home, and holding back tears Reich handed a game ball to Brown in the locker room after the game.

Three weeks later, he had taken the play-calling duties back.

Of course, the Panthers scored just 41 points in those three games. Young and the Panthers scored two touchdowns in the span, equaling the number of pick-sixes thrown in that same timeframe.

Sunday’s opponent won’t make it easy on Carolina to turn the corner this season. But the Panthers sorely need to get a spark offensively before too long.

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