CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP)Will Grier grew up cheering on wide receiver Steve Smith from the stands at Carolina Panthers’ home games, where his family had season tickets.
On Sunday, the lifelong Panthers fan will make his first NFL start when Carolina visits the Indianapolis Colts (6-8). Panthers interim coach Perry Fewell named Grier the starter after Thursday’s practice, an announcement that was pretty much a foregone conclusion after Grier received all of the first-team reps this week.
”I’m extremely excited to go get that game experience,” Grier said. ”Camp and preseason is one thing. It’s a grind. I’m excited to actually play in a full game.”
Grier replaces Kyle Allen, who has lost his past six starts and thrown 11 interceptions during that span.
A third-round pick out of West Virginia, Grier started the season No. 3 on the depth chart behind Cam Newton and Allen. He hasn’t played since the preseason, where he was 34 of 61 for 385 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions.
With the Panthers out of playoff contention, offensive coordinator Scott Turner said the time ”felt right” to give Grier a shot and find out what he can do.
”We think a lot of Will and that is why we drafted him where we did,” Turner said. ”We have been developing him all year. He has been ready to go since Week 3 (when he moved into the backup role). I think it is just good for him to get out and play.”
Turner said there will be no limitations on the playbook with Grier taking over at quarterback, adding that ”we will run the plays that work and he will execute them.”
Grier hasn’t taken many snaps with the first team until this week because the team has been getting Allen as much work as possible in practice since he is a young QB who has needed to develop as well. Grier said it’s fun getting a chance to play with the starters in practice.
”This year it’s been about how can I get better without taking these reps,” Grier said. ”I tried to learn how I can continue to get myself better. I got to try different things because I didn’t have to get ready” to start.
Grier’s most important task will be taking care of the football.
Allen had not thrown an interception in his first five NFL starts, but the floodgates have opened recently with the second-year QB struggling with turnovers. Allen’s 22 turnovers in 12 starts this season are more than Newton has had in any of his nine seasons with the Panthers.
”It’s all about making quick decisions, reading the defense and taking what is there and not trying to press,” Turner said.
Grier arrived in Carolina already married and a father.
He said that grounded him and helped him mature as a person.
”Being a father is an amazing thing, the best thing that has ever happened to me,” Grier said. ”It has made me a better person and gave me added motivation. It is great to go home and have a family that is going to support you no matter what.”
Grier grew up in Davidson, North Carolina, about 20 miles from the stadium.
His father Chad Grier was the head football coach at Davidson Day, and Grier won three state titles there and once threw for 834 yards and 10 touchdowns in a 104-80 semifinal playoff win over Harrells Christian.
Panthers tight end Greg Olsen joked that if Grier does that again in the NFL the Panthers should build him a statue.
”That was an incredible experience,” Grier said with a smile. ”I don’t know if I ever could do that again.”
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