15 things I learned at the Panthers’ practice with Jets: Bryce Young, Hayden Hurst step up

SPARTANBURG, S.C. — For nearly all of Wednesday’s joint practice, Aaron Rodgers and Bryce Young were on separate fields directing their respective offenses — the 39-year-old veteran who’s bound for the Hall of Fame when his career winds down and the 22-year-old rookie just getting started.

But for a few minutes before the drills began in Day 1 of Jets-Panthers, Rodgers and Young — who share an agent — caught up on the practice field at Wofford, where a huge crowd turned out.

“It was just more general talk. He talked a little about his experience and wished me luck,” Young said afterward. “Just for him to take the time and come out and say something, I really appreciate it. I have the utmost respect for Aaron.”

The feeling is mutual. Rodgers raved about how Young’s skill set and the way he carries himself, saying: “I love the kid. … Carolina’s in good hands.”

Young credited Rodgers for “opening the door” for quarterbacks to experiment with different arm slots, something Young has mastered to compensate for his 5-10 frame. Meanwhile, Rodgers was asked what advice he would give the player drafted No. 1 overall in April.

“Be gentle with yourself. It’s a long journey. It feels like every little snap and practice is the end of the world if it doesn’t go right. It’s not true,” Rodgers said. “It’s a long journey. It’s about holding on to your confidence and enjoying the ride and enjoying the little things every day. But I think he’s got a good head on his shoulders and he’ll be just fine.”

15 things I learned Wednesday

(Spent mostly watching the Carolina Panthers’ offense)

1. The New York Jets have a fast, physical defense. But Hayden Hurst let them know right away the Panthers weren’t backing down, rookie QB or not. Early in the team run period, linebacker Jermaine Johnson pushed Hurst over the pile when he was blocking backside. On the next play, Hurst repaid the favor by driving Johnson into the ground with a sweet pancake block that nearly led to the first fight.

“It’s more of just a pride thing. Whenever I’ve got my jersey on with my last name, I don’t want to get embarrassed like that,” Hurst said. “I took it personal and the next play kind of set the tone for the offense a little bit.”

2. Hurst is supposed to be the pass-catching tight end, and Ian Thomas the blocker. But a day after Thomas had several catches, Hurst bulled up and showed he’s going to be a leader in his first season with Carolina.

3. The Hurst-Johnson play was one of several in which tempers flared and things nearly boiled over. But players did a good job of policing themselves. The result: The first joint practice I’ve covered that didn’t include a full-fledged fight.

“I think the first couple of team periods you see it getting a little chippy. It’s just boys will be boys,” Hurst said. “But the more and more tired guys get, it starts turning more into football instead of street fighting.”

4. Young was built for these moments. We knew this already but Wednesday was another example that Young thrives on the big stage. And this is about as big as it gets in training camp — HBO cameras, New York media, a legendary QB on the other side. And what did Young do? Playing against a Jets defense that was missing cornerback Sauce Gardner and defensive end Carl Lawson, Young completed 14-of-22 passes and saved some of his best work for the end. Young was 5 of 7 in the two-minute drill, with completions to five different receivers, and led the offense to a field goal.

“We want our quarterbacks to distribute the ball, be playmakers, be the Steph Curry,” Panthers coach Frank Reich said. “Just get the ball to these guys, let them make plays for you.”

5. Young’s only hiccup was an interception on a sideline route to DJ Chark. Cornerback Brandin Echols got a hand on the ball, which bounced off Chark and back to Echols, who took off for the end zone.

“Just a good play by the Jets,” Reich said. “Somebody on our side said maybe they hit us a little bit early. I don’t know if I saw that or not. I’ve gotta see the film, if there was early contact. I didn’t think it was, but we’ll look at the film.”

6. The Panthers closed the deal. After just-signed kicker Matthew Wright made a field goal at the end of the Young-led drive, the Panthers forced Rodgers into a three-and-out on the Jets’ two-minute. “We want to be able to finish games out,” Reich said. “We want the defense to finish games out. Get us the ball back.”

7. The second teams were next up in two minute. After Andy Dalton got the Panthers into Jets’ territory, Wright — signed Tuesday with Eddy Pineiro dealing with a groin injury — missed a long field goal. Wright was wide right.


Panthers DJ Chark: Being Bryce Young’s go-to deep target and staying healthy top WR’s list

8. Wright’s miss brought on Zach Wilson and the Jets’ second-team offense in the final period of the day, which ended with the ball in the hands of linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill, whose interception wrapped up things. Grugier-Hill now has four interceptions at camp — two vs. Dalton and one each against Young and Wilson.

9. Ron Rivera used to name a training camp MVP (when asked by reporters) early in his Panthers’ tenure. Grugier-Hill, the special teams veteran, would be among the leading candidates this summer. “He brings a lot of juice. He’s like (Frankie Luvu) in that aspect,” Brian Burns said. “He’s been a ballhawk this whole camp. He’s really been making a lot of plays.”

10. Speaking of Luvu, it was too bad the veteran linebacker was held out with what Reich called a “little nick.” (Luvu had a sleeve on his right knee.) It would have been fun to watch the Panthers’ Instant Energy Jolt run around against his former team.



Jets’ biggest issue on display in Panthers joint practice, plus other observations

11. Pretty sure I haven’t typed Deonte Brown’s name during two-plus weeks of camp. But the former Alabama offensive lineman had a pair of strong reps in the one-on-one, pass block period. Brown is still a long shot to make the roster. But maybe the sixth-rounder from 2021 is figuring out things.

12. The Panthers on Tuesday released their first unofficial depth chart, which listed rookie receiver Jonathan Mingo as a starter ahead of Laviska Shenault and Terrace Marshall, among others. That was a bit surprising because the second-round pick from Ole Miss hadn’t done a ton over the past few practices at Wofford, while Shenault had excelled in a jack-of-all-trades role.

Then Wednesday happened. Mingo caught four passes during the 11-on-11 work throughout the practice, including an out route from Young during the two-minute. The Panthers liked the idea of bringing in a highly drafted wideout to pair with Young. On this day, anyway, the two were in sync.

“It was a meaningful day between them,” Reich said. “I think Mingo has looked good the whole time. But in recent days, the ball just hasn’t gone his way a bunch. It was good to get him back involved.”

13. Hurst, the tight end who set the tone early Wednesday, indicated Mingo is far from a diva-type receiver. “I like Mingo a lot. He’s got that dog in him,” he said. “He’ll get after you in the run game. He has no fear. He’ll get in there and catch balls across the middle. The way he runs routes, he’ll take you deep on the outside as well. I think he’s gonna have a huge part of this offense.”

14. Shenault missed Wednesday’s practice with an undisclosed injury, which Reich indicated was not serious. Just as well. It’s not like the Panthers were going to roll out their secret Shenault package in front of another team and a bunch of cameras.

15. And yes, a lot of media members and fans — more than 10,000 tickets were distributed — descended on the Sparkle City. “It’s cool. It’s a helluva lot cameras out here with the “Hard Knocks” and the Mic’d Up and all this,” Burns said. “But when it comes between the white lines, I don’t see none of that.”

Things promise to be more laid back Thursday. Reich said the 75-minute practice — the final one of camp — would be lighter.

(Photo of Bryce Young: Mike Stewart / AP Photo)

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