CHARLOTTE -- For six years, the Panthers went into their offseasons knowing that Jake Delhomme would throw their first passes the next fall. Even after he underwent Tommy John surgery midway through the 2007 campaign or had a six-turnover night in a playoff loss, the Panthers' recent history always pointed to Delhomme being back at work for the next year's season opener.
But he understands that the dynamics of depth chart at quarterback may have changed in the final five weeks of the season, when a broken finger forced him to the sideline, leaving
"I'm a realist about a lot of things," he said.
Starting with football, where Delhomme knows what 4-7 and 8-to-18 mean. The first hyphenated combination was the Panthers' record when he played, marking his first sub-.500 record as a starter since the injury-shredded 2004 campaign. The second was his touchdown-to-interception ratio, which at minus-10 was the worst in the league.
"The '09 year -- I don't want to say just the 'season' -- for whatever reason, it just hasn't been good football-wise for me," Delhomme said.
There could be a price to pay in job security, and Delhomme, ever the self-confessed realist, understands this better than most.
"I made that bed, I've got to lie in it," Delhomme said. "That's fine by me. Whatever I have to do, I'm going to do. I believe in taking the high road and just keeping my mouth shut and working."
"We're a two-week business," he later added. "(If) you're good for two weeks, you're great; (if) you're bad for two weeks, you're lower than you-know-what. That's kind of the way it goes."
Moore was on the happy side of that dichotomy. With each start his confidence grew; with each surge in confidence the offense further opened and played into his strengths -- particularly his mobility and intermediate-range accuracy.
Few were more pleased about Moore's development than Delhomme, whose counsel has helped guide the younger passer.
"I'm so proud of him. That's the biggest thing," Delhomme said in December. "He understands the importance of everything now, of all the hours we spend (in meetings). He's worked at it."
Most of the work over the nearly two years between Moore's starting assignments didn't even involve picking up a football.
"It's the cerebral part," Delhomme said. "You've got to truly understand the whole concept of being a quarterback in the National Football League, not just the X's and O's. I think that's the biggest thing about it. Taking care of your body, putting in the preparation, things of that nature. That's something that you learn, and he's grown a lot in that the last few years."
Part of that growth is handling a potentially tricky situation, assuming both return.
"Both of us, all we want to do is win, no matter how that gets done, I think that's good enough," Moore said. "It's not awkward. It will be fine as we go."
"I anticipate being here. I expect to be here. I want to be here. That's how I'm going to look at it," Delhomme said. "Certainly Matt played outstanding the last few games for us, so that will be a big question -- and rightfully so. Whatever decision management and coaches decide to make, be it in my favor or not in my favor, I'm going to keep my mouth shut no matter what and come to work."
Josh McCown stepped into action the first time Delhomme left the lineup, but didn't last long, throwing only six passes before Philadelphia defensive end Darren Howard hit him low. He remained a regular presence on the sideline helping the coaching staff and quarterbacks for the balance of the year, but didn't play again, spending the final 16 weeks of the season on injured reserve.
"It scared me, just because it was a pretty good crunch," McCown said a day after the injury. "I'd never really been rolled up that bad."
McCown's knee wasn't as damaged as it first appeared to be; head coach John Fox described it as a "six-week injury" and no ligaments were torn. But the recovery timetable was lengthy enough to force the Panthers to search for a replacement, which turned out to be ex-Eagles, Chargers and Dolphins quarterback
Feeley's work was entirely confined to the practice field; he was the emergency No. 3 quarterback for 10 games and was Moore's immediate backup for the last five.
When Delhomme went on injured reserve, rookie Hunter Cantwell was promoted from the practice squad to the 53-man roster as the emergency quarterback for the final two games. By moving Cantwell up to the primary roster, the Panthers locked in his services for the coming year; had he remained on the practice squad, any team could have signed him to a reserve-future contract at the close of the regular season.
Cantwell's preseason work was limited last year; he completed nine of 16 passes for 120 yards, a touchdown and a 101.0 passer rating. With a year's experience in the offensive scheme, he could see his summer workload increase this year.