Uh oh, the batteries are dead in the toy dinosaur and plastic T-Rex lies motionless on the living room floor. Landon, age 2, stares up at his parents for a second and makes a small whiny sound, but Mom is watching television and Dad is reading the sports section. So little Landon pops up, bounces into the kitchen and returns with a Phillips head screwdriver. Then, with the practiced hands of a NASCAR crew chief, expertly twirls the battery case open.
Mom and Dad's eyes meet, eyebrows raised.
"How did he know which drawer that screwdriver was in?" Mom says. "And how did he reach it?"
"How did he know the difference between a Phillips head and a flat head tool?!" counters Dad. "And did you see how he anchored the handle with one hand and used the fingers of his other on the shaft? I haven't taught him that."
Ah! It's happening! A young mind is gaining traction on the learning curve!
Parents could swap stories like that all day and into the night. So could NFL quarterback coaches, who understand the importance of curiosity and a high football IQ.
"Our guys are coming along well, very well," said Rip Scherer, now in his second year tutoring the Panthers' trigger men. "We hit them with a lot. There is the volume of stuff they have to process and then there is the speed with which they have to make it happen. It is tremendously exciting to see a young quarterback transfer to the field what he has learned in the classroom and in film study."
"I feel like I'm learning so much every day," said rookie Jimmy Clausen. "There are new reads, new protections, new concepts, and I'm trying to develop a feel for all of it, learn from my mistakes, and then correct those mistakes."
Scherer came to the Panthers with a reputation of being an astute teacher of quarterbacking fundamentals with a particular interest in the mechanics of the position.
"It is a non-stop process," said Scherrer. "I have a great group of guys. They are young but they are talented, smart and they work hard. Once we get into June, I concern myself more with a player's lower body action. Footwork is extremely important. And we do look at delivery, too. Jimmy for example, we are working with him on shortening his delivery, making him more compact."
Clausen must also adjust to what both NFL receivers and professional defensive backs are capable of.
"Yes, no doubt," Clausen said. "I guess the closest thing I've experienced to what a Steve Smith can do would have been Golden Tate at Notre Dame. But that is part of my learning process, too, developing a feel for where guys like the ball, how fast they are and that type of thing."
So, as practice continues at Bank of America Stadium, a group of over-sized toddlers huddle tightly around Coach Scherer waiting for more instruction. These young quarterbacks are like sponges. They are eager to learn, even when they are not being taught.
Mick Mixon is the play-by-play voice of the Carolina Panthers.*