At top of Dave Canales’ to-do list: Building bond with Panthers QB Bryce Young

ORLANDO, Fla. — A couple of weeks after Dave Canales was hired, the Carolina Panthers coach went to dinner with Bryce Young in Charlotte. It lasted three hours.

The two talked about football, with Canales asking Young to recap his quarterback story beginning from when he was 15 or so. They also talked about life, including an appreciation of the weather in southern California where both grew up.

They learned a lot about each other over those three hours that night and the two months since. Among Canales’ takeaways: Young isn’t as amiable as he often came across during a difficult rookie season.

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“Everyone says he’s such a nice kid. He’s such a nice guy and all this. And it’s like, yeah, but there’s an edge,” Canales said Tuesday at the NFC coaches breakfast at the owners meetings.

“You don’t play at the level of football that he has played without having an edge, having that confidence in yourself to be introspective, to learn the hard lessons and be able to communicate it and see it with a hopeful mindset,” Canales added. “He’s like, ‘I’m glad I went through this last year. I’m glad I had the challenges of this because this is very different than anything I’ve experienced up to this point.’”

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The Panthers hired Dave Canales in January and getting to know his quarterback has been one of his top priorities. (Nathan Ray Seebeck / USA Today)

Canales has begun building relationships with many of the players and coaches he hasn’t worked with previously. None will be as important as the bond he forges with Young, last year’s No. 1 pick who experienced his first prolonged taste of adversity during a 2-15 season that cost Frank Reich and his offensive assistants their jobs.

Enter Canales, the former Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive coordinator who was hired after coaxing quarterbacks Geno Smith and Baker Mayfield to their best seasons. Canales has watched the tape of the Panthers’ NFL-worst offense in 2023. He has thoughts on how Young can improve.

But before Canales starts the on-field work with Young during OTAs this spring, the upbeat, 42-year-old coach wants to build “emotional currency” so those teaching points go down a little more smoothly. Thus, the conversations about Newport Beach, Calif., where Young spends a lot of time and which Canales described as unbelievable.



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“We just try to connect on a personal level,” Canales said. “I think the more that we can create a relationship, it really softens the message. Versus when it’s just like player-coach, it’s kind of clunky and it’s a little bit abrasive when you’re constantly just correcting these football things but you don’t have the basis of a relationship to lean on.”

Young had a lot of voices in his ear as a rookie, as former tight end Hayden Hurst said. The Panthers cycled through play callers like a round of speed dating. Reich was fired in November, along with quarterbacks coach Josh McCown and running backs coach Duce Staley.

Everyone had an opinion on how to get Young and the offense untracked. Some in the organization believed Young wasn’t getting deep enough on his dropbacks, causing some of the pass protection issues that resulted in a mind-boggling 62 sacks.

Canales said Young’s drops played “a little bit” of a role in the protection woes.

“Nothing too alarming,” said Canales, who had to remind Smith, Mayfield and Russell Wilson at various times how their depth would change based on the call and the routes.

“Those conversations in general will happen,” he added. “But I didn’t see that as a specific problem.”

The bigger problems were receivers who had trouble getting open and offensive linemen who struggled to keep the rush off Young, particularly at the revolving-door guard spots following season-ending injuries to starters Austin Corbett and Brady Christensen.



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The Panthers addressed both areas in free agency, spending major money on free-agent guards Robert Hunt and Damien Lewis and trading for Steelers receiver Diontae Johnson. Canales said those moves weren’t made solely for Young’s benefit, part of Canales’ offseason motto to “get the football right.”

Still, it’s hard to imagine anyone in the organization being more pleased than Young with the addition of Johnson, even if it means Young enduring the occasional screaming fit from the mercurial wideout with a history of diva antics.

“It’s a dream for any quarterback, really,” Canales said. “To have that type of dynamic player, you think about guys like Justin Jefferson, Stefon Diggs and their ability to separate on the first level and the second level. It really is cool to add him to what we’re doing.”

The Panthers have more to do this offseason to help Young. It would qualify as somewhat shocking if general manager Dan Morgan doesn’t use one of his two second-round picks on another receiver with playmaking potential. Morgan and Canales seem content with the tight end group. They could draft a center as insurance for Corbett, who is switching positions after undergoing two knee surgeries last year.

Then OTAs and minicamps will get rolling and Canales’ efforts to get the football right will begin in earnest. And while the Panthers don’t want to make it all about him, of course Young will be the focus. His success or failure will likely determine the fates and legacies of Canales, Morgan and many others in the organization.

Canales is hopeful that lengthy dinner and subsequent follow-up chats with Young will give both a running start.

(Top photo of Bryce Young: John Byrum / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images))

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