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Panthers’ Hayden Hurst defends rookie Bryce Young, praises leadership through rough season


The 2023 Carolina Panthers season is one the organization and fans alike will want to forget about quickly. At 1-10, they own the NFL’s worst record and playoffs are an afterthought entering December. 

But there’s certainly still something to play for if you’re rookie quarterback Bryce Young, the 2023 NFL Draft‘s first overall selection by Carolina. 

The results have not been what Young and the Panthers have wanted in year one. Head coach Frank Reich, as well as assistant head coach/running backs coach Duce Staley and quarterbacks coach Josh McCown, were all fired on Monday. 

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Bryce Young vs Titans

Carolina Panthers quarterback Bryce Young during the Tennessee Titans game at Nissan Stadium in Nashville on Nov. 26, 2023. (Christopher Hanewinckel-USA Today Sports)

Owner David Tepper wants new leadership in place and isn’t wasting any time doing so because having someone like Young on board is paramount in terms of developing his talents at the NFL level.

When a season goes awry, no matter how accustomed to the league a player might be, the quarterback usually gets the brunt of finger pointing. Young has been graceful with his answers to media during practice sessions and after the losses, but one of his teammates doesn’t think the blame should be solely focused on the young signal caller. 

“I don’t think you can sit here and just point fingers at one guy. I think, at different points, everybody offensively has contributed to losses. That doesn’t exclude myself,” Panthers tight end Hayden Hurst told Fox News Digital over the phone when asked about Young. “I have played up to my standards that I set for myself last year playing in Cincinnati and playing in some big games. That carryover a little bit hasn’t happened 100% for me, so I’m accountable as well.

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“I think top down, you can kinda look yourself in the mirror on this offense and be like, ‘At this point, I wasn’t good enough for Bryce. At this point, I wasn’t good enough.’ That’s the [offensive] line, at running back, receiver, that’s myself. There’s times he’s hit me open and I’ve made a few drops. That’s uncharacteristic of me, but I’m man enough to sit there and look myself in the mirror and be like, ‘Well, I’ve got to go back to the drawing board and be better.’ So I think nobody on that offense is excluded from that. We’ve got to all around be better.”

Hurst has also seen the type of person Young has been through this turbulent start to his career. 

Young didn’t do a lot of losing during his time in Tuscaloosa playing for the Alabama Crimson Tide. But this test of adversity is one Hurst sees first-hand Young accepting and trying to power through. 

That’s all you can ask for from a rookie quarterback. 

Hayden Hurst looks on field

Hayden Hurst of the Carolina Panthers warms up for the Dolphins game at Hard Rock Stadium on Oct. 15, 2023, in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Megan Briggs/Getty Images)

“Obviously Bryce has kinda taken his lumps this year, as we all have,” Hurst explained. “But the one thing that’s been a constant about him is no matter if it’s a 30-point loss or whatever it is, he’s in that building Monday morning trying to get better. In the situation that we’re in right now, where wins are kinda at a premium, all you can ask for is accountability and him being constant. That’s what we’re finding. Every time I’m in there doing rehab, he’s watching film, doing rehab. He’s first one in the building and last one out. I know that sounds cliché, but it’s true. Obviously it hasn’t correlated to wins and losses, but not for the lack of effort.”

Young hasn’t had Hurst on the field in recent weeks, as he is working his way through concussion protocol. 

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Young has thrown for 1,877 yards with nine touchdowns and eight interceptions over 10 games. His quarterback rate is the second-lowest in the NFL at 32.3, and his passer rating is 31st as well at 74.9. 

But, as Hurst put it, all the blame can’t be placed on Young. One key statistic is how often Young is finding open receivers this season. It’s clear that veteran wideout Adam Thielen, who joined the Panthers this past offseason, is his only reliable target as he accounts for 9.1 targets per game. 

Hayden Hurst runs on field

Hayden Hurst of the Panthers celebrates a catch against the Indianapolis Colts at Bank of America Stadium on Nov. 5, 2023, in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Eakin Howard/Getty Images)

As for his other options, fans have seen that Young isn’t throwing to open receivers and the stats show it. A recent chart, as of Nov. 15, showed that Young is the NFL’s most accurate passer, hitting his target over 75% of the time on passes five-or-more yards downfield. But the catch is the percentage of throws where his receivers have open separation is the lowest in the league under 25%. 

In layman’s terms, Young is hitting his targets at an exceptional rate when he throws the ball. But too many times his receivers are not creating enough separation to make plays.

So, as the Panthers move into this time of limbo before a new era of coaching reaches Charlotte, Hurst wants to be among those players helping out his quarterback in the remaining games. 

“Once I clear protocol, I’ve got to kinda get my butt going, too, and play better football for Bryce,” he said. 

Hurst hopes to be cleared from concussion protocol this week, where he can get back on the field for the league’s annual “My Cause My Cleats” initiative, which kicks off in Week 13. 

Bryce Young throws ball

Bryce Young of the Carolina Panthers attempts a pass against the Falcons at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Sept. 10, 2023, in Atlanta. (Todd Kirkland)

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Hurst’s cleats this year will bring awareness to military suicide prevention, as he partners with Face the Fight, a coalition established by USAA in 2023, and his own Hayden Hurst Family Foundation. The aspiration of Face the Fight is to cut the veteran suicide rate in the United States in half by 2030. 



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