Panthers’ Reich reclaims play-calling job, Young reacts to release of starting lineman

Panthers head coach Frank Reich is Carolina’s primary offensive play-caller . . . again.

Wednesday, Reich took back the responsibilities after offensive coordinator Thomas Brown was given a three-game stretch to call plays. Brown will continue to oversee the offense and collaborate with Reich on the game plan, but Reich will wear the headset and make the decisions on game day.

“This is not about Thomas — this is about me, this is about the team,” Reich said. “I’m in the position I’m in because of years of being a successful offensive coordinator and play-caller. We have eight games left and I just want to give my attention, and everything I can do and everything I can bring to bear, to help the offense take a next step.

“It’ll still be collaborative. Thomas will still be running the show as far as the offense and all the install meetings and game-planning. He’s still at the center — he and I working together like we’ve been all year. So, I trust Thomas — more than anybody — and he’s helped me become a better coach and a better man. So, this isn’t about that — this is about the team, this is about us all playing the role that we think can help us these last eight games.”

The Panthers’ offense went from averaging 16.3 points per game — with Reich calling plays — in the first six matchups of the year to averaging 11.3 points per game in the following three games with Brown as the play-caller.

However, the Panthers’ lone win of the season came in a 15-13 victory over the Houston Texans, which saw Brown call a game-winning field-goal drive.

Following the win over Houston, Reich gave Brown a game ball in an emotional hand-off within the locker room in front of players, coaches and team owner David Tepper, who also gave the head coach a game ball for his first-ever win in Carolina.

With Brown’s play-calling, the Panthers averaged 16.3 first downs and 237.3 yards per game. During the first six games of the season, despite the Panthers going 0-6 with Reich as the primary play-caller, the offense averaged 20.7 first downs and 294.7 yards per game.

The Panthers scored 10 offensive touchdowns in six games with Reich as the play-caller. Brown’s three-game stint offered up two offensive touchdowns.

“Internally, for us, because it is that collaborative (process), maybe it’s only a 10% difference in the way the game gets called,” Reich said. “The offense is the offense. We game plan together. But every play-caller has their own personality. As I saw how Thomas called it, there were a lot of good things. There were a couple of things that I wouldn’t have done that were successful, that I learned from watching him do in just three games.”

Reich had been the primary offensive play-caller during his five-plus years in Indianapolis as head coach. While he stated that he was open to giving up play-calling at his introductory press conference in January, Reich held on to control through the Week 7 bye, before handing over the duties to Brown.

The 37-year-old offensive coordinator had only previously called plays at the college level. Brown served as the University of Miami’s offensive coordinator from 2016 to 2018.

Reich said that he understood the back-and-forth movement would draw criticism. However, Reich said the decision, which was made a couple of days earlier, was not about Brown coming up short.

“More than anything, I think it was the right thing to do,” Reich said.

According to rookie quarterback Bryce Young — who threw for 593 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions under Brown’s play-calling guidance — Reich told him and the team about the change before the start of the week of practice.

“I think it’s the result of everything,” Young said. “We do everything as a team, as a unit, specifically offensively. So, it’s all of us. Again, it was what he felt like was best, what we felt like was right for the time being, and I think it’s just the result of a lot of things, but ultimately, it’s just what’s best for the team. There’s no one at fault. It’s the call Coach made, and we have his back with it.”

Running back Chuba Hubbard said the main message at 1-8 is that everyone has to perform better during the final eight games of the season.

“Wish the season went a lot better, obviously, with how things went,” Hubbard said. “But no matter who is calling plays, we have to execute at a high level, and I feel like, obviously, on offense we need to do a better job of that — especially myself. Like I said, it doesn’t matter who is calling plays, we’ve just got to execute it and do it at a high level.”

The Panthers will look to make the most of the change Sunday when the Panthers host the high-powered Dallas Cowboys at Bank of America Stadium. The Cowboys (6-3) average 29.9 points, 22.6 first downs and 379.1 total yards per game.

Carolina Panthers head coach Frank Reich (right) looks over an offensive play call sheet during action against the New Orleans Saints at Bank of America Stadium on September 18, 2023. as offensive coordinator Thomas Brown surveys the field. Reich announced on Oct. 16, 2023, that Brown would take over play-calling duties.
Carolina Panthers head coach Frank Reich (right) looks over an offensive play call sheet during action against the New Orleans Saints at Bank of America Stadium on September 18, 2023. as offensive coordinator Thomas Brown surveys the field. Reich announced on Oct. 16, 2023, that Brown would take over play-calling duties.

Bryce Young weighs in on starting lineman’s departure

The play-calling exchange wasn’t the only big move to be made on offense this week. Tuesday, the Panthers announced that guard Calvin Throckmorton, who started seven of first nine games for Carolina this season, had been waived.

Throckmorton, who was subject to waivers, was claimed by the Tennessee Titans — the Panthers’ Week 12 opponent — on Wednesday.

The Panthers claimed Throckmorton off waivers from the New Orleans Saints in August following final cuts. He went on to start four games at right guard and three games at left guard, blocking for Young during the first half of his rookie campaign as injuries piled up on the line.

Following practice on Wednesday, Young — who has been sacked 29 times in eight games — was asked about the decision to move on from the lineman.

“That’s definitely not something that you get used to,” Young said. “Hearing the news about (Throckmorton), you can’t get used to that. It’s a hard business. Trust the front office and the building, but it doesn’t make it any easier. Again, it’s not my job to be worried about personnel — again, I trust the front office — but like that’s hard. That stuff is difficult.

“And obviously, it’s more difficult for him. For me, you talk about someone in different parts of life, it’s like someone has your back, but like for most of the games, (Throckmorton) literally put his body on the line for my safety, for weeks now. And I don’t take that lightly. There’s the figurative ‘I got your back,’ but people up front, again, literally put their body through hell and back, and go up against people to protect me. And the front office does what they do, and I believe in them, but it’s hard — you don’t get used it.”

Reich said rookie Chandler Zavala, the team’s fourth-round pick, will retake the starting left guard position with Throckmorton no longer around. Zavala started four games at left guard (and one at right guard) before suffering a neck injury in the loss to the Detroit Lions in Week 5. Zavala had served as a backup lineman the past three games.

Reich said the decision to move on from Throckmorton was made, in part, to usher in a youth movement on the line.

“Hard decision,” Reich said. “Throck did a good job as a veteran coming in here. Very dependable, very smart player. Chandler had been our starter, he got injured, and we’re developing young guys the whole time . . . But love the contribution (Throckmorton) made and the person he is.”

During the first practice of the week, senior members of the front office and coaching staff watched the offensive and defensive line drills during the media-viewing portion of the workout.

Reich, GM Scott Fitterer, assistant GM Dan Morgan and senior defensive assistant Dom Capers were among the notable names watching the big men compete.

“That’s where you win and lose games,” Reich said. “For us on offense, this (Dallas) front that we’re playing is pretty dynamic. Obviously, Micah Parsons is a unique player, (Dexter) Lawrence is still playing a really high level, (Dante) Fowler — the whole crew. So, protection is an emphasis all the time, especially this week against one of the best pass rushes.

“And then defensively, if you’re going to slow down an offense like this, it’s got to start up front, and we’ve got to do a good job stopping the run up front and affecting the quarterback.”

Wednesday injury report

Did not participate: TE Hayden Hurst (concussion), OT Taylor Moton (rest/knee), DE DeShawn Williams (not injury related)

Limited: G Austin Corbett (calf), OLB Marquis Haynes (back), CB CJ Henderson (concussion), CB Jaycee Horn (hamstring - IR), WR/RB Laviska Shenault (ankle), TE Ian Thomas (calf - IR), S Xaviers Woods (thigh)

Full: OLB Brian Burns (concussion), WR DJ Chark (elbow), TE Stephen Sullivan (shoulder)