Sports

Panthers QBs Kyle Allen and Will Grier are ‘blue collar,’ their former coach says

Carolina Panthers quarterbacks Will Grier (3), Taylor Heinicke (6) and Kyle Allen are competing to be Cam Newton’s backup. Allen and Grier played for the same offensive coordinator at different schools: Jake Spavital.
Carolina Panthers quarterbacks Will Grier (3), Taylor Heinicke (6) and Kyle Allen are competing to be Cam Newton’s backup. Allen and Grier played for the same offensive coordinator at different schools: Jake Spavital. AP

The differences between Carolina Panthers quarterbacks Kyle Allen and Will Grier are subtle. Two inches, 10 pounds and very different beard styles. But, they share a similar path to the NFL.

They met at a football camp in Chapel Hill early in their high school careers, and they also competed against each other in the 2014 U.S. Army All-American Bowl.

Now, Grier and Allen are competing against each other again, along with Taylor Heinicke, to be Cam Newton’s backup — a key spot on the roster as Newton returns from offseason shoulder surgery.

Allen and Grier were heavily recruited by the same Texas A&M offensive coordinator, Jake Spavital. He coached Allen at Texas A&M and later mentored Grier at West Virginia. Spavital gave the Observer his thoughts on how Grier and Allen compare ahead of Panthers training camp.

“It’s pretty remarkable to watch how they’ve been in the spotlight,” he said. “They’ve had some adversity in their lives, and they overcame it to get to the point where they’re at in their lives.”

‘May the best man win’

Allen and Grier, a Charlotte-area native, transferred in the middle of their collegiate careers for different reasons.

For Grier, it was a banned substance scandal that left him with a yearlong suspension at Florida. He transferred to West Virginia, where he finished fourth in the 2018 Heisman Trophy race under Spavital.

For Allen, he transferred from Texas A&M after losing the starting quarterback position to Kyler Murray. Allen went undrafted after one season at Houston. Murray would eventually transfer to Oklahoma, where he won the 2018 Heisman then became the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s NFL Draft.

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Jake Spavital Lynda M. Gonzalez Austin America-Statesman via TNS

The experiences humbled Allen and Grier, Spavital said. They were put under a microscope, undergoing criticism and scrutiny, Spavital said, but they came out stronger because of it.

“I don’t think there’s anybody in this profession that can seriously question anything about who they are as people,” he said. “... The main thing that they worry about are the things that they can control, and they’re just trying to be the best versions of themselves they like...

“They’re tough. They’re fighters; they’re blue collar.”

Spavital, now head coach at Texas State, said their high-level, urgent ball-handling skills should liven up the Panthers’ backup quarterback competition.

Grier’s case could be helped by his high draft status. Allen’s arm strength and his accuracy, however, could make him hard to overlook.

Heinicke played one game near the end of the 2018 season for an injured Newton before also getting hurt.

“At the end of the day, we’re going to keep the best football players that help give us a chance to win,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said.

Regardless of where Allen and Grier end up on the Panthers’ depth chart, their shared path to the NFL will help them flourish and push those around them, Spavital said. With them, there’s no ego.

“They understand that it comes based off of performance, and may the best man win,” Spavital said. “But they’re gonna enjoy their time doing it together.”

Breaking down Allen and Grier

Jake Spavital, now the head coach at Texas State, recruited and coached Carolina Panthers quarterbacks Kyle Allen and Will Grier during their college careers. Spavital mentored Allen during his freshman and sophomore seasons at Texas A&M, and guided Grier at West Virginia in 2017-2018.

The following is Spavital’s analysis as the Panthers head to training camp at the end of the month.

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Kyle Allen started his college career at Texas A&M under offensive coordinator Jake Spavital. Allen transferred to Houston after two seasons. David T. Foster III dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com

Kyle Allen: Selfless leader

Allen is going to place more emphasis on the team than his individual stats, Spavital said, making him a natural vocal leader.

College career: Allen, a five-star high school quarterback in suburban Phoenix, transferred from Texas A&M after his sophomore season in 2015, and played one year at Houston. In total, he threw for 4,283 yards, 37 passing touchdowns and had a 61.7 pass completion percentage.

NFL career: He signed with the Panthers as an undrafted free agent in 2018. He threw for 228 yards and two touchdowns in his only start against New Orleans at the end of last season.

Spavital says: Allen’s arm strength and passing accuracy caught Spavital’s eye at Texas A&M. “When you start watching tape, the first thing that you looked at was he can make all the throws,” Spavital said. “We’re in a spread, kind of no huddle, throw-it-around offense … he can make all the throws necessary to play at a very high level.”

What Allen needs to do in camp: Focus on his throws. While his accuracy is the lowest out of the quarterbacks with a 61.7 pass completion percentage, his strength makes up for it. He fits into the young passer role the Panthers’ need in light of Cam Newton’s shoulder injury.

“He could get the ball in and out of his hand, but he can also throw the deep post routes,” Spavital said. “... Hail Marys aren’t just luck with him.”

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Will Grier, a native of the Charlotte area, played for Jake Spavital at West Virginia after the Davidson Day product transferred from Florida. David T. Foster III dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com

Will Grier: Playmaker

Grier is a poised player, never getting rattled when under pressure, Spavital said.

College background: Grier, who played at Davidson Day, left Florida after his redshirt freshman season and went to West Virginia, where Spavital was offensive coordinator. He sat out the 2016 season due to a one-year suspension. In total, he threw for 8,556 yards, 81 passing touchdowns and had a pass completion percentage of 65.7.

Pro career: The Panthers picked Grier in the third round of the 2019 NFL draft.

Spavital says: Grier’s mobility is his biggest strength. “He was constantly making plays with his feet, throwing the ball,” Spavital said. “He was throwing on the runs, throwing in pocket... He was just a ball player.”

What he needs to do in camp: Grier has paired his mobility with accurate throws. His competitive spirit made him relentless on the field, doing anything he could to get that extra yard or score.

“His dad even told us, ‘Hey, you’re going to have to, at times, tell him you’re gonna have to protect yourself because the kid’s gonna jump over people and not slide,’” Spavital said. “That was his thing. He’s more mature now, but he’s just got such a competitive spirit about himself that he’s going to do whatever it takes to get the first down.”

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