NFL: Panthers a rarity with five undrafted QBs
By Mike Cranston
CHARLOTTE ó The five Carolina Panthers quarterbacks stood at midfield Monday in their red jerseys, warning overzealous defensive players they were off limits.
Nobody dared to touch them during the optional workout, part of a firm football tradition to protect the guys playing the glamorous position.
Only these red-clad guys weren’t deemed that valuable on draft weekend. Carolina is the only NFL team without a QB taken in the draft.
“I must admit we’re pretty proud of the fact that there are no signing bonus babies in our quarterback room,” Jake Delhomme said.
Delhomme, Matt Moore, Brett Basanez, Lester Ricard and rookie Taylor Tharp have been cut a total of five times, have a combined four stints on NFL practice squads and one tour in the now-defunct NFL Europa.
“It wasn’t by design,” coach John Fox said of having five undrafted QBs. “It’s just how it worked out. They’re the best we got.”
Delhomme takes pride in being the leader of this unappreciated bunch.
After leaving Louisiana-Lafayette, Delhomme was waived three times by New Orleans and played in Europe. But when finally given a shot, Delhomme led the Panthers to the Super Bowl in the 2003 season, his first year as a starter.
Delhomme is now working his way back from ligament-replacement surgery, and his absence last year is what Fox brings up first when explaining their 7-9 season.
“Takes a team to the Super Bowl, comes back from Tommy John surgery. He does all this and he’s not drafted,” said Basanez, who played at Northwestern. “He’s not 6-5, he’s not 230. Come on. It’s really about want-to and just drive and determination.”
When Delhomme was injured early last year, the Panthers turned to an overall No. 1 pick. But David Carr struggled so badly amid injuries that he was replaced by another former No. 1 pick, 44-year-old Vinny Testaverde.
Testaverde’s body didn’t hold up, either. Finally, Carolina turned to Moore, who was ignored on draft weekend after a vagabond college career that ended at Oregon State. Moore, who was cut by Dallas before the regular season, went 2-1 as Carolina’s starter.
“Until a guy is under pressure it’s hard to evaluate ó even when you have them on your team,” Fox said. “That’s why they’re hard to get. It’s not just how tall or strong-armed or your production in college. Tom Brady wasn’t the most productive guy in college and he’s done pretty good.”
To round out their preseason roster, the Panthers signed Tharp, a rookie out of Boise State, and Ricard, who spent last season on Jacksonville’s practice squad after being a three-year starter at Tulane.
Ricard, who grew up in Louisiana and watched Delhomme’s brief outings with the Saints, thinks he’s in the right spot.
“It’s a situation where you see guys who are able to do it,” Ricard said. “You’ve just got to go out here and fight.”
That attitude is a constant among these QBs, who are determined to prove the scouts wrong.
“We all have a chip on our shoulder,” Delhomme said. “In my opinion, and certainly I’m biased, it goes to show you the inexact science of picking a quarterback. You just don’t know. The best quarterback in the game, Tom Brady, was a sixth-round pick. How does he slide to that? You look at a Kurt Warner. I look at a Jeff Garcia. He’s played forever.”
The Panthers were confident enough in Delhomme’s rehab and Moore’s performance last year that they didn’t sign a veteran QB after they released the ineffective Carr and Testaverde retired.
They’ll likely enter training camp without a guy who celebrated on draft weekend.
“You fall through the cracks,” Delhomme said. “I think a lot has to do with your height and your size. You have to be this or that. No, you don’t. You have to be a leader and you have to play.”