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Hekker and Jansen assisting Panthers defense with a "QB competition" 

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CHARLOTTE— Let it be noted that long snapper JJ Jansen and punter Johnny Hekker are "throwing our hats in the ring," according to Hekker. "We have a really deep quarterback room now."

Mark it down that Andy Dalton is somewhat skeptical of the plan: "Are you eligible? Is 44 eligible to be quarterback?"

Let it be known that Jansen acknowledges that his teammates think the better quarterback between he and Hekker is Andy Dalton.

Wait, what?

"Let it be marked in the record that JJ pointed to me and called me, Andy," Hekker states as Jansen offers a different solution to what has become a contested debate.

"Can we have GPT answer these questions?"

Since that's not a viable option, we did ask their teammates. But we're getting ahead of ourselves. Let's rewind a few weeks.

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This whole competition started when Jansen and Hekker found themselves pitching in with different drills during practice.

"As a specialist, sometimes it's limited," Hekker explained. "You want to practice special teams the first bit of practice and then you kind of look around like, what do we do? Let's do some drills, let's kind of refine our craft."

After wandering close to the defensive back drills one day, the punter and the long snapper (respectively) were "volun-told" according to Hekker, to hop in and play quarterback for a few drills.

"I mean, not to knock any of the coaches, but sometimes their arms get a little sorer throwing a few days in a row to the DBs and I like to get accurate looks of, hard throwing balls because the quarterbacks aren't going to take it easy on them on Sundays," Hekker shared. "So, every now and then JJ and I throw the ball and kind of wander near the drills like, hey, if you guys need anybody, let us know. And then you get called up to the big leagues and get your opportunities, don't blow it."

The big leagues entail making certain drills even more difficult than players could face on Sunday. Jansen is a former baseball player who's tooled to throw as hard as possible. Hekker is a former quarterback who has the pinpoint accuracy and zip. Both lend themselves to short passes that audibly whiz through the air, causing some DBs to jog off the field after catching the pass, and quickly shaking out their stung hands while letting out expletives that our mothers won't let us share in this forum.

Since individual and position drills often split up the offense and the defense, having Jansen and Hekker on hand gives the secondary a tougher drill to sharpen their skills.

"The point of the drill is, we basically run straight at them and then they throw the ball as hard as they can, which simulates breaking on the ball," safety Nick Scott explained. "The hardest ball to catch for a DB is when you're running towards it full speed, which is a lot of the times how you're going to have success in your interceptions, you got to cut a guy off and run towards the ball.

"So, they're just trying to simulate that and make it as tough as possible," Scott laughed, "which they did."

Those periods in practice have been mutually advantageous, giving Jansen and Hekker a peek into a position neither have played before.

"The good thing is we're learning a lot of terminology of the DBs, which is helping grow our football IQ," Hekker said, as Jansen interjected with his new vocabulary; "What are the words? Weave, kick—which interestingly enough has nothing to do with actually kicking."

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Long term tangible benefits for the team aside, the question does still remain, who is the better quarterback between the two specialists?

"Johnny because Johnny's done it in the game," Scott answered without hesitation. "I caught a pass for Johnny in 2019."

When Hekker and Scott were both with the Los Angeles Rams, the two connected on a successful fake for a first down against the Atlanta Falcons, "so that's my quarterback as far as I'm concerned," Scott declared. "JJ is pretty accurate. Neither of them are bad quarterbacks. They both got good zip but, you know, Johnny's done it in a game."

Hekker has done it in a game 24 times actually, completing 15 of those fakes, including one in Carolina and one for a touchdown (and an 84.2 passer rating).

Sam Franklin was happy to provide some expert insight as well, in such a way that Jansen didn't have to think twice about who the safety might have ranked first out of the two.

"I'm guessing he said Johnny," Jansen guessed. "Yea in your face," Hekker taunted after confirmation.

"JJ is a great athlete but sometimes he can balance his baseball throwing motion with his football, leaves it a little high," Franklin deduced judiciously. "We wouldn't put him at the starting quarterback, but, you know, he's pretty smart so we probably put him at third string. But Johnny is definitely QB1 (of the specialist) right now. We're still working on JJ trying to get him right."

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But let it be noted, there is context to be added.

From Jansen; "Please make a note though that Sam Franklin always comes into my line."

And from Hekker; "Make it known that Sam Franklin goes into JJ's line because he wants his hand to be coddled and JJ throws nice little loopy, catchable balls."

Unable to let the duel end there, the two hone their quarterback skills with long toss competitions. Jansen says he is in the 48-50 range, while Hekker is at least 55 yards. Before the two can brag about those numbers too much, Dalton sticks his head in with a reminder that on that day alone, he'd thrown a 63-yarder.

"Let it be noted," Hekker said, popping the table as he and Jansen walk off with Dalton, continuing to debate who would be the better emergency quarterback.

Maybe the duo isn't quite ready to be a full-time quarterback, even if Jansen is jockeying for his own opportunity to be a part of a fake in a game. For now, being the passers that make the Panthers defense better is reward enough. Even then, Franklin leaves them with one last reminder.

"They need to go practice a little bit. I totally need them to get out there and warm up a little bit more before practice starts. If they're going to play quarterback, they got to do it right."

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