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What Panthers OC said about retaking play-calling duties

If it feels like the Carolina Panthers’ offensive play-calling responsibilities have bounced around like popcorn in a microwave this year, offensive coordinator Thomas Brown isn’t adding salt to the latest kernel of change.

Brown retook play-calling responsibilities on Monday following the firing of head coach Frank Reich. The offensive coordinator had previously served as the primary offensive voice during a three-week stretch following the Week 7 bye before having the duties yanked away from him by Reich in Week 11.

Despite the previously mentioned switch up, Brown took the high road Thursday when speaking about his relationship with Reich after his exit.

“Very fortunate for the opportunity that he gave me … to be in this role, have an opportunity to work alongside him and kind of grow from that standpoint,” Brown said. “But I think it’s always an evolving process. I just try to be reflective of everybody I’m around when it comes to what I learn, how much I absorb and try to do a really good job of contributing to be my best every day for them.”

During his first game as an NFL play-caller, Brown called a game-winning drive, which led to the Panthers’ only win of the season to this point. The Panthers scored 15 points in that home win against the Houston Texans, and despite that being a low bar for an NFL offense, the unit hasn’t eclipsed that total during the past four games.

When Brown was forced to give up play-calling ahead of the 33-10 loss to the Dallas Cowboys, he said that he would handle the change like a leader. Brown chose to handle this latest twist with the same amount of class.

Brown knows the offense needs to improve from his earlier tries. And he will get the opportunity to see that through during the next six games.

“My overall goal is to educate, inform and inspire — but also put those guys in the best spots on game day,” Brown said. “They can play confident and cut it loose — don’t worry about anything else.”

Carolina Panthers offensive coordinator Thomas Brown looks at the Jumbotron during a replay of fourth-quarter action against the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday, November 5, 2023 at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, NC. The Colts defeated the Panthers 27-13.
Carolina Panthers offensive coordinator Thomas Brown looks at the Jumbotron during a replay of fourth-quarter action against the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday, November 5, 2023 at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, NC. The Colts defeated the Panthers 27-13. JEFF SINER jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

During Brown’s three-game stretch, the offense averaged just 11.3 points per game. Somehow, Reich’s past two outings had even worse results with a pair of 10-point performances.

That output has been a tough look for first overall pick, quarterback Bryce Young, who has three pick-6 interceptions during that span. Young has more turnovers (six) than touchdowns (three) during that stretch as well.

A large reason owner David Tepper dismissed Reich was the product on the field, namely the offense. But from the outside looking in, the only way to make that product better is to put Young in a more favorable position to succeed.

That’ll be one of Brown’s biggest tasks during the home stretch of the season with interim head coach Chris Tabor overseeing the entire squad.

“We’ll still communicate the way we had been doing before,” Brown said about his collaboration with Young. “We’ll have the chance to sit down and talk about the call sheet.”

Brown will also take on the running backs coach duties following the dismissal of Duce Staley. Parks Fraizer, the pass game coordinator, will also oversee the quarterbacks after the departure of former position coach Josh McCown. Both McCown and Staley were let go by Tabor on Monday.

But in an effort to streamline the offense, Brown and Frazier will have former Detroit Lions and Indianapolis Colts head coach Jim Caldwell to lean on as a special advisor.

With Brown having to work double duty, Caldwell’s background as a play-caller and quarterback whisperer should help the coordinator get more out of the week of practice.

“Definitely fortunate to have him (as) a part of our staff,” Brown said about Caldwell. “To be able to kind of communicate with him and pick his brain on a number of different topics — from the overall business to life in general. It’s definitely a pleasure to be around him every day.”

Panthers place Laviska Shenault on IR

The Panthers’ offense will move forward without wideout/running back Laviska Shenault.

On Thursday, the Panthers placed Shenault on injured reserve with an ankle injury. Shenault had previously missed three games with ankle injury. It’s unclear whether the two ailments are related.

The Panthers now have 12 players on injured reserve without designations to return. Cornerback Jaycee Horn (hamstring), safety Jeremy Chinn (quadriceps) and pass rusher Yetur Gross-Matos (hamstring) are all in the middle of their 21-day practice windows after being designated to return over the past few weeks.

Shenault served as a deep-depth wideout and the third running back in the Panthers’ offense under Reich. However, he only managed to produce 60 receiving yards and 55 rushing yards in eight games. With Shenault on injured reserve, running back Raheem Blackshear and wideout Ihmir Smith-Marsette should get more opportunities on offense down the stretch.

The Panthers’ roster is now at 49 players, which could lead to the respective activations of Horn, Chinn and Gross-Matos from injured reserve.

Along with placing Shenault on IR, the team also swapped out a pair of practice squad players. The team released quarterback Jake Luton and re-signed guard Deonte Brown.

Mike Kaye covers the Carolina Panthers for The Charlotte Observer. Kaye previously covered the entire NFL for Pro Football Network, the Philadelphia Eagles for NJ Advance Media and the Jacksonville Jaguars for First Coast News. He is a graduate of the University of North Florida.

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