SPARTANBURG, S.C. - When quarterback Derek Anderson jogged onto the field in the fourth quarter for his Panthers debut Saturday night, it quickly became apparent that it wasn't his first time in the offense.
Anderson looked more like a starter than a third-stringer, but he understands that he's in Carolina first and foremost to groom a starter rather than become one.
"Right now, that's my role, and I'm willing to do it. I'm having fun," said Anderson, who entered the game after Jimmy Clausen and Cam Newton took their turns. "I'm trying to help those guys learn the offense, having been in it, and I think I've helped them with a lot of things and will continue to help them. I hope I can teach them from the mistakes that I've made."
Anderson, a Pro Bowler in 2007 with the Cleveland Browns when Panthers offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski held the same role there, played mistake-free football in Saturday's 20-10 victory over the New York Giants. On his first possession, he completed all three of his pass attempts for 71 yards – connections of 15 and 21 yards to Charly Martin, then a 35-yard touchdown to rookie Kealoha Pilares that sealed the victory.
Anderson threw one pass on his final two drives – an incompletion – to finish with a quarterback rating of 156.2. The highest possible rating is 158.3.
"Having him on our team gives us three really good options," tight end Greg Olsen said. "He's a veteran guy who knows this offense. Even in practice, he could be standing around for two hours, but as soon as he jumps in, he picks right up where he left off. There's a reason he went to the Pro Bowl."
Anderson made no mistakes Saturday, but he admits to making mistakes in the past. He has struggled since his Pro Bowl season, and last year in Arizona, he was asked to tackle the unfamiliar role of mentor after he lost the starting job.
Now, however, Anderson is embracing the role.
"I've learned a lot over time," said Anderson, now in his seventh NFL season. "The last few years, there has been a lot of pent-up frustration, but I came into this situation with a clear head and a free mind. I came here to help. It's a leadership role where I can help these guys grow."
Anderson said he likes what he's seen so far from Clausen and Newton, the Panthers' top two picks in the last two NFL drafts.
"They're both very gifted," Anderson said. "The first day I was here, I realized how big Cam really is. He's very physically gifted and throws the ball very well, but he's got a long ways to go obviously as far as understanding NFL defenses and a pro-style offense.
"Jimmy, he had his struggles last year - like we all have - but he's working really hard at it and is picking it up really good. They both bring good things to the table and are working hard at it."
Anderson is helping both of them with their homework.
"He's great for us," Clausen said. "He's helped me since Day One. He definitely knows the game, and he knows the ins and outs of this offense.
"Derek has done a great job with myself and Cam and Tony (Pike) as well to try to teach us different things that he's done in the past, things that have worked for him and may work for us. He's done a heck of a job."
And, if it comes down to it, Anderson has the ability to get the job done on the field as well – as he showed Saturday.
"They made it clear that I probably wasn't going to get a lot of reps and that I'd just have to study and make sure I was ready to go when the opportunity came," Anderson said. "It was fun to be back out there. I thought we did a lot of good things, some positive things to build on. All in all, we did a pretty good job."