SPARTANBURG, S.C. -- Carolina Panthers general manager Scott Fitterer and assistant general manager Dan Morgan were headed to the Wofford College cafeteria on Tuesday when they saw something they hadn’t before.
A confused Bryce Young.
The rookie quarterback had been doing his laundry and was trying to figure out if he had time to “switch it out" before a team meeting. The player who always has a well thought-out plan genuinely was a bit rattled, something seldom if ever seen on the field.
The moment came to mind when Fitterer was asked how the top pick of the 2023 draft earned the respect of his teammates on his way to surpassing veteran Andy Dalton as the starter.
“He felt like a rookie, like, ‘Where do I go?'" Fitterer recalled. “You expect so much out of him, but you realize he’s a rookie and he’s trying to figure out how to do little things around the dorm and where to go. It’s kind of cool to see that."
This may seem like an odd moment to recall when talking about respect, but to take it one step further Fitterer added, “He’s such a humble guy."
It’s the humbleness that makes it easy for teammates to like and respect the player whom the Panthers moved from ninth to first in the draft to get. But it’s Young’s vision, the way he prepares and always has a plan on the field, that made it happen so fast.
“This is a thinking, grown man," said head coach Frank Reich, a former NFL quarterback. “He’s in control. He knows what he wants and how he wants it done."
Veteran wide receiver Adam Thielen saw that during the summer break when Young gathered most of his skill position players at Southern Methodist University for informal but intense workouts before training camp.
They spent two days in Dallas learning about each other as men, not just football players, building relationships that would make them better when they arrived for camp.
So far, so good.
“Sometimes when you’re in the building it’s all football and you don’t really have a chance to really understand and know somebody, so that time outside the building was invaluable," Thielen said. “That stuff is beyond like doing the right thing or being nice.
“It creates a culture."
Veteran wide receiver DJ Chark loved the experience because he learned more about Young the person than Young the football player.
“Those things carry over onto the field because you can have those conversations, and the moment never gets too big or too tense because you have that relationship with him," he said.
That's when players saw the leadership skills in Young that Fitterer and Reich saw during the draft process. They saw that behind their quarterback’s soft-spoken voice is a take-charge kind of person who understands the details it takes to be successful.
Young never left any doubt who was running the show.
“Whether it be a new guy on a team or a rookie coming into a whole new league, sometimes it’s hard to have that feel of knowing when to talk and not to talk," Thielen said. “That’s what I learned at SMU is he had the ability to take over and say, ‘Hey, we’re going to do this, we’re going to show up on this time and we’re going to run this route and we’re going to have a plan.
“Not a lot of guys have that. A lot of times guys just show up and throw. He had a plan and a mission."
That has stood out the first week of camp. Young took charge of the huddle from Day 1 and made it easy for Reich to pronounce him QB1 after only one practice.
“Bryce will fool you now because he has the quiet demeanor," Reich said. “But … this is a grown man."
Tight end Hayden Hurst compared Young’s demeanor to that of Cincinnati quarterback Joe Burrow, the top pick of the 2020 draft who quickly turned the Bengals from perennial losers to a Super Bowl contender.
“He’s not going to be the rah-rah, screamer type of kid," Hurst said of Young while comparing him to Burrow, whom Hurst played with last season. “He’s going to go about his business a certain way. … He’s not in your face. He’s not screaming. He’s in there watching film every day.
“It makes you want to be on top of your game because you don’t want to let guys like that down."
It wasn’t overnight with Burrow. The Bengals were 4-11-1 his rookie year, including 2-7-1 with the former LSU star as the starter.
But in Burrow’s second season the Bengals reached the Super Bowl before losing 23-20 in the title game and were back in the AFC Championship Game in 2022.
There’s optimism the Panthers can succeed quickly with Young because of the team they’ve built around him and the NFC South is down.
Young isn’t daunted by the expectations. He has dealt with them and succeeded most of his football career, going 23-4 as the starter for national power Alabama.
“Lofty expectations aren't something new," Young said. “I've always taken the same approach. Whatever people are talking about, it is what it is. It's stuff that I can't control.
“Making sure that my teammates, my coaches, what we set [as goals] in the building, that’s who I listen to. That's the expectations that we come up with together and build together as a team."
But to be clear, those expectations are centered around Young and what teammates and the staff already have seen from him. Owner David Tepper didn’t temper those on draft night, saying Young meant “Super Bowls."
Chark saw that potential early.
“Everybody is here for him," he said during voluntary offseason workouts. “And we believe he can take us to some really high places."
But it all starts with the humble demeanor Fitterer and Morgan saw when Young was perplexed by his laundry situation.
“It’s never anything arrogant or cocky," Chark said. “It could because he has a lot of accomplishments. But it’s usually the small things that [say a lot]. He told me he used to drive DoorDash his first year in college."
Like the laundry, DoorDash seemed an odd thing to bring up regarding humility. But to Chark it meant Young wasn’t too big to do an ordinary job.
Left tackle Ikem Ekwonu said edge rusher Brian Burns nailed it during offseason workouts when he noted Young “walks around with this kind of -- excuse my language -- humble but I know I’m the s--- type of swag. … But he’s humble with it."
“He’s a baller in and out, but he’s always going to be humble, too," Ekwonu said.
Young also apparently is a singer based on what teammates saw in his performance of a Keyshia Cole song during Wednesday night’s rookie talent show. Linebacker Shaq Thompson said it was like a concert.
“He got up there and killed it," he said. “It shocked us; he had so much personality. … That was a whole different Bryce. It was good to see."
As for the laundry, Young eventually erred on the side of making the meeting in time after some friendly ribbing from Fitterer and Morgan, who reminded even rookies could get help with dirty clothes.
“I remember that moment," Young said. “It’s being in a new environment … a new setting, a new format, I definitely still feel that. It’s a lot of things you are doing for the first time.
“But on the field I really just lean on the people around me."