Posted by Ryan Wilson
We've spent much of the preseason focused on the the battle for the backup job in Denver. It became clear early on that Kyle Orton would be the starter, despite offseason speculation that 2010 first-round pick Tim Tebow could ascend to the role. Instead,the storyline was Tebow vs. Brady Quinn with the winner getting the earpiece and clipboard on game days.
Meanwhile a more interesting backup quarterback competition was unfolding in Charlotte, where Cam Newton has been the unofficial starter since the moment he was taken with the first-overall pick in April. (The news became official Thursday night when it was printed on team letterhead and announced publicly by coach Ron Rivera.)
The contestants: Jimmy Clausen, the team's second-round pick a year ago who had about as rough a rookie season as could be dreamed up, and Derek Anderson, a 2007 Pro Bowler who fell on hard times in recent years with the Browns and the Cardinals.
In the Panthers' final preseason game against the Steelers, Anderson got the second-team snaps and took advantage of the opportunity. He finished the night 11 of 19 for 192 yards, including a 41-yard touchdown pass to David Clowney. Clausen, on the other hand, had a forgettable effort. Details via CBSSports.com Rapid Reporter and Carolina Growl writer Steve Reed:
Clausen had a disastrous night, throwing an interception on his first pass of the game and then fumbling a snap from center leading to a Steelers touchdown in the fourth quarter. He threw another pass that should have been picked off and was also sacked three times, including once on fourth down while the Panthers were in the red zone. He looked particularly slow moving around in the pocket after injuring his thigh last Thursday night against Cincinnati.Anderson came to Carolina from Arizona, but he has experience in Chudzinski's offense during their time together in Cleveland.
It was the first time this preseason that Anderson was the second quarterback into the game and could signal the Panthers are more comfortable with him being Newton's primary backup since he's more familiar with (offensive coordinator) Rob Chudzinski's offense.
"The thing about that is Derek is a guy that doesn't need a lot of reps in this offense," Rivera said, via Reed. "At the same time, if something were to happen, he's a guy that because he doesn't need a lot of reps in this offense could probably help us. So we are most certainly going to take a look at that and see where that fits with what we want to do offensively."
As for the news that Newton will be under center when the Panthers take the field on September 11 at Arizona, Rivera sounded optimistic.
"We are looking forward to him being our starter," Rivera said. "He's going to grow as our starter and we're going to grow as a football team. The thing that has to happen is that we as a football team have to grow and it's not just about him. It's about the rest of growing with our system... I want to make this clear again: We didn't draft Cam to be our savior, we drafted him to help lead this football team. He will be our starter on opening day."
Pretty sure the fans don't see it this way, but that's what happens when the team struggles to go 2-14 the year before. For his part, Newton said all the right things about winning the job.
"That's a big opportunity and a big responsibility," he said. "To be a starter in this league there is so much that goes into it behind the scenes and I've got to be ready for that."
It turned out to be a dreadful night for former Notre Dame quarterbacks trying to climb NFL depth charts. In Denver, Quinn got the start and went 4 for 12 for 26 yards and an interception. If there's a silver lining it's this: because of the new game-day roster rules, teams no longer have to name an emergency third quarterback.
So should Rivera replace Newton, he could use either Anderson or Clausen at any point during the game. In theory, both players are co-backups. The reality -- at least after Clausen's performance against the Steelers -- is that he has the No. 3 job sewn up.
But, hey, the regular season hasn't even started. A lot can change in the coming weeks and months. After all, the Browns drafted Quinn as their franchise quarterback in 2007 and that season Anderson led the team to 10 wins and he made the Pro Bowl. This game is crazy like that.
For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnNFL on Twitter and subscribe to our RSS Feed.