QB Bryce Young excited about 'new faces' in Carolina after team's 2-15 season in 2023

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — The Carolina Panthers spent more than $150 million upgrading their offensive line and traded for wide receiver Diontae Johnson in an attempt to help quarterback Bryce Young maximize his potential.

Whether or not that helps Young take a much-needed step forward after going 2-14 as a rookie starter in 2023 remains to be seen.

But the second-year quarterback appeared pretty excited on Tuesday about the organizational changes this offseason following the first practice under new head coach Dave Canales.

“It's just great to get some new faces in here,” Young said after the first day of minicamp. “They are all hungry, and great players. ... There is a lot of new ideas, new energy and new people. Right now the mission is just for all of that to come together, and for us to get on the same page and focus in on turning this into a winning football team.”

The Panthers invested a lot in Young last year, and it's absolutely vital to their future that he shows progression.

Carolina sent four draft picks and wide receiver D.J. Moore to the Chicago Bears to move up to the No. 1 spot in the draft last year to get Young, who won the 2021 Heisman Trophy at Alabama. It's a move that ultimately costly Carolina the No. 1 overall pick in this week's NFL draft after the Panthers finished 2-15, the worst record in the league.

Carolina does not have a first-round pick on Thursday night.

Young's struggles in Carolina were only amplified by the success of C.J. Stroud, who was drafted one spot behind Young by the Houston Texans.

Young averaged just 180 yards passing per game with 11 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.

It didn't help that he spent most of the season under duress, sacked 62 times — second most in the league. Young refused to say if constant pressure impacted his confidence, choosing to talk only about the future.

But new general manager Dan Morgan certainly felt the need to shore up the middle of the offensive line, signing guards Robert Hunt from the Dolphins to a five-year, $100 million deal and Damian Lewis from the Seahawks to four-year, $53 million contract.

“I have t hat inside-out mentality,” Canales said. “It starts up front. I've always believed that about football. It starts on the offensive line and defensive line. Getting those critical pieces, those were the first moves we made " in free agency.

Morgan also wanted more playmakers in the passing game, trading for Johnson. He will be paired with reliable veteran wideout Adam Thielen and last year's second-round pick Jonathan Mingo.

Johnson caught just 51 passes for 717 yards and five touchdowns last season for the Pittsburgh Steelers. But he's shown big-time star potential with 107 receptions for 1,161 yards and eight touchdowns in 2021.

Johnson said he's a player who can get open no matter where he is on the field. He said Tuesday that Canales has told him he will be the first option on most of Young's reads, a strong indication the Panthers view him as their No. 1 receiver.

“I'm here to make him better as a quarterback, to help him grow,” Johnson said.

Young has spent the past few months learning Canales' playbook and working to tweak his fundamentals, most notably his footwork.

Canales wants Young to get the ball out of his hands in 2.7 seconds or less, which will require decisiveness in working through his progressions. Young finished 24th in the league last season with an average release time of 2.9 seconds, per ESPN stats and information.

He also wants to make sure Young isn't putting too much pressure on himself, and becomes more reliant on his teammates.

“I think if we can all get on the same page with the language — again with it being a new offense, new terms — it all starts there,” Canales said. “If we can communicate and all speak the same language we can build anything pretty fast.”