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Rookie QBs on display


CHARLOTTE - In the early phases of the Panthers' exhaustive research into what player they should select with the No. 1 pick in the 2011 NFL draft, quarterbacks Cam Newton and Blaine Gabbert received equal attention.

Eventually, though, the Panthers couldn't take their eyes off Newton.

This Sunday, however, Gabbert will again have the Panthers' full attention: He'll make his first NFL start for the Jacksonville Jaguars and will do so against Newton and the Panthers at Bank of America Stadium.

"I'm very excited for Blaine," Newton said. "We went through the process together - me, him, Andy (Dalton), Jake (Locker), all those guys - so there's somewhat of a connection there. I wish him the best in his career."

While the Panthers went with Newton for the opener and have been richly rewarded – he's thrown for more than 400 yards in each of his first two starts – Gabbert had to play a waiting game that didn't last as long as expected.

The Jaguars traded up to take Gabbert with the 10th overall selection in the draft, but former East Carolina standout David Garrard seemed sure to start for the sixth consecutive season. Jacksonville, however, released Garrard days before the season opener and handed the job to Luke McCown.

McCown started the first two games, but Gabbert took over in the fourth quarter of last week's loss to the New York Jets. Wednesday, Jaguars head coach Jack Del Rio announced that Gabbert would start against the Panthers.

"I feel really ready," Gabbert said. "I've been preparing for this moment since I got to training camp, learning the offense and getting comfortable with the team. I feel very comfortable."

The Panthers, of course, hope to take Gabbert out of his comfort level. They obviously know the capability of rookie quarterbacks – needing look no farther than their teammate – but they also know experience under center can make a difference.

"He's in the NFL, and he's here for a reason. He went in the first round, so of course he's got talent," cornerback Captain Munnerlyn said. "We've just got to go out there and hopefully confuse him, mess with his head a little and hopefully get our hands on some balls."


The Panthers' coaching staff certainly understands Gabbert's potential because they intensely scrutinized him throughout the first month of the draft evaluation process. The Panthers went to both quarterbacks' pro day, interviewed both and brought both in for a visit that included dinner with owner Jerry Richardson.

In time, though, they turned their full attention to Newton.

"If you look at the way we started the process, it was almost mirrored for each guy," Panthers head coach Ron Rivera said. "And then from that process that we went through, we decided to focus on Cam from that point on, after a good four or five weeks.

"They're the same type of athlete - big, tall and physical guys with great arms and great running ability. They have good vision and they're smart guys. But there was just something else that attracted us to Cam. It's hard to explain. It don't want to say the other kid doesn't have the 'it factor,' but there was something about Cam that I haven't seen in a lot of guys - and I'm not just talking quarterbacks."

Newton has shown "it" on the field in the first two games, and now Gabbert will get his chance to do the same. In the process, they'll become the first pair of first-round quarterbacks to square off as rookies since Matt Leinart and the Arizona Cardinals faced Jay Cutler and the Denver Broncos five years ago. The last time such a matchup included the No. 1 overall pick was 2004, when top choice Eli Manning and the New York Giants squared off against Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers.

"It's going to be fun," Gabbert said. "Cam is a good guy, and he's had great success this year.

"They're a great football team. They're a couple of plays away from being 2-0, and we know that. They're a good, talented defense and they've got an explosive offense, so we've got to come ready to play."

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