After trading up with the Chicago Bears to select No. 1 overall in the 2023 NFL Draft, the Carolina Panthers took Alabama Crimson Tide quarterback Bryce Young, a player whom current Panther head coach Frank Reich supposedly had been sold on since Young was 19.
Young played for the Crimson Tide from 2020-2022 but had his first start in 2021. He would go on to start 27 games between 2021 and 2022. So, what sold Reich on Young?
Was it his 2021 Heisman Trophy, SEC Offensive Player of the Year Award, or First-Team ALL-SEC honors?
"It happened on his 30 visit," Reich said.
The "30 visit" refers to one of the 30 visits that teams can have with prospects at their facilities before the draft.
While there, Young talked with Reich, offensive coordinator Thomas Brown and quarterbacks coach Josh McCown about protections and changing blocking calls at the line of scrimmage.
One of the plays to come up was a garbage-time pass Young threw in his true freshman season against the Tennessee Volunteers. It was third and 6 from the Crimson Tide 38-yard line. This was Young's 10th pass of his college career, and he was 19 years old.
You can see the play at 2:03:14 in the YouTube video below.
The Play the Panthers Fell in Love With Bryce Young
OK, let's set up this play.
Young came in at 10:07 in the fourth quarter. The Crimson Tide were up 45-17 and on their way to a win over the Volunteers. It's first and 10, and the drive starts with a run that picks up a few yards, followed by a quick pass behind the line of scrimmage for a yard.
Now comes the play that got Reich and the Panthers coaching staff intrigued by Young at such an early age.
There's 9:10 left, and the clock is ticking. It's third and 6, and the Crimson Tide are at their 38-yard line. Young looks to the sideline to receive the play and lines up in shotgun with the running back to his right.
You see him clap his hands, trying to trick the defense — but then he stops, leans forward and shouts something to the offensive line. He then snaps the ball, takes a five-step drop back, appears to look for his first read, then fires a pass to the right to now-Houston Texans wide receiver John Metchie for a quick 12-yard gain.
So what's so special about this? Why did this play, not a massive touchdown pass, intrigue Reich?
If you look before the snap, there appear to be four rushers to the left of the center, but then a fifth one creeps up. Young sees this, then shouts at the offensive lineman. When this happens, a quarterback is calling for a protection change.
"Bryce right there called a five-man slide, which is an incredibly smart and incredibly risky call," Reich said, watching the play. "If you're going to call a five-man slide, you have to be 100 percent sure you can bring that [right] tackle over. Because if you bring him and that [left defensive] end comes, you're in trouble. And just watch the play — how smooth the call is, how sure he is. He saw overload pressure to his left, and he figured he wasn't getting pressure to his right; he had the line all move left to compensate — and he even got back to cover a blitzer. Just look how easy he made it look."
If you go back to the play, you'll notice that all pressure that "appeared" to be coming from the right side dropped back into coverage while the entire offensive line veered toward the left. This allowed Young to be kept incredibly clean, convert the third down and keep the drive going.
To most, this is a throwaway play in a football game. It's garbage time. The true freshman is in, but quality coaching will notice this. Heck, we all likely missed this play until you really look at it.
For a true freshman who's 19 years old — having only ever thrown 10 passes — to recognize that is incredibly impressive.
"That play just confirmed everything we were thinking and already know. It just confirmed the level of football IQ he has that's on par with Peyton [Manning], [Matt] Ryan, [Philip] Rivers, [Andrew] Luck. I'm telling you: There are quarterbacks in the NFL who haven't done what he did right there — and he did it easily in his true freshman year in college. To have the confidence to make that call for Alabama in his second college game — unreal."
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