Spring is a time for new beginnings. The days get longer. Flowers bloom. Green grass grows. Leaves return to trees.
For Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme, spring is also a new beginning. Fresh off signing a contract extension that will keep him with Carolina through 2014, he returned to the field last week for the first time since a horrific final game of the 2008 season when he threw five interceptions in a playoff loss to Arizona. The team's three-day minicamp marked the start of a new year, and Delhomme could not have been any more excited.
"Any time you end the season, especially in the playoffs, it always stings. But certainly not to play well - and that's putting it mildly - it just crushes you inside," he said. "It's something where you wish you had a game the next week but you don't. It fuels the fire in the offseason to get back and try to do better."
One thing that is new for Delhomme and Carolina's other three signal callers is their quarterbacks coach. Rip Scherer joins the Panthers following four seasons with the Cleveland Browns and replaces Mike McCoy, who is now the Denver Broncos' offensive coordinator.
"Sometimes when you get something new, I know especially for veterans, you want to hone in. There might be new ideas that you are going to learn. I know for myself, I'm excited. I have a new quarterbacks coach. He'll bring some new ideas. And I'm all about learning," Delhomme said.
Some of those new ideas were evident on the field at minicamp during the quarterbacks' individual drills. To practice passing accuracy, Scherer had the quarterbacks try to throw the football into one of three bags placed in different locations in a net. Before, Panthers passers' attempted to throw into a barrel from varying distances.
Additionally, Scherer added some twists to the drills. Instead of just working on three- and five-step drops, he taught footwork similar to the instruction running backs receive. Delhomme and his mates ran over a series of bags on the ground as Scherer hit them with a blocking dummy to help them with ball security while they attempted to pass.
"That's something that's new. We've been throwing into barrels since I got here in '03," Delhomme said. "It's back to bags and different things that it's been awhile since I've done. But I think that's great. I think the older you get you really have to hone in on fundamentals."
At age 34 and entering his 11th NFL season, Delhomme is not a spring chicken. The Panthers' starting quarterback since 2003 and the franchise's all-time leader in pass attempts, completions, passing yards, touchdown passes and most games with 300 or more passing yards, he knows an injury or other circumstances could end his career. As a result, his perspective has changed as he has gotten older.
"You start to look at it more toward how much you truly enjoy it and you know it's not going to be around forever," he said. "As you get older you realize your opportunities get smaller and smaller and the years go by quicker and quicker. So you need to do any and everything possible to get yourself ready to play because you just never know."