Tall task for Pike

SPARTANBURG, S.C. – At 6 feet, 6 inches, Tony Pike stands as tall as any player on the Panthers' roster.

That's good for a rookie quarterback trying to stand out, but not so good for someone living in the team dorm and using the Wofford-provided twin beds that the students soon will use.

"They're tiny. I kind of hang over a little bit, but that's all right," Pike said. "You don't really get a good sleep – you're kind of tossing and turning because you're so used to what you have at your house.

"But you want to rest as much as you can because you're taking on a lot mentally and physically."

Pike is taking on more than many. He's just two months removed from college living, victimized by a rule that doesn't allow NFL rookies to practice with their new teams until their college class graduates.

The University of Cincinnati is among 10 or so major colleges that don't have graduation ceremonies until June because they utilize the quarter system, a set-up that forced Pike to miss the beginning of summer school.

"It was almost two weeks. I missed eight or nine practices, which made it hard because I was just playing catch-up the whole time," Pike said. "But here, I'm ready to go.

"I've gotten to come in and learn everything from the start with the other guys. You can pick up things a lot easier and aren't playing catch-up the whole time."

Still, it's a challenging set of circumstances for Pike. While quarterbacks Matt Moore and Hunter Cantwell have experience in the Panthers' pro-style system, and rookie Jimmy Clausen – Pike's roommate – played in it at Notre Dame, Pike is coming from a spread offense at Cincinnati.

And, with Pike currently working as the fourth quarterback, his snaps during team periods can be limited. In Wednesday's morning practice, for example, when the Panthers ran six full-contact plays near the goal line, Pike wasn't able to get a turn under center.

"You go from college training camp with two-a-days, and if you're the top guy, you're throwing a lot of balls," Pike said. "Here, you've got four guys, and everyone is getting reps, so in team period and seven-on-seven, it's like 10 to 12 passes a day, and then everything else is individual.

"In the individual drills, you watch maybe 10 plays, and then you go in and you're expected to repeat what you've seen, even if you haven't had a rep. The biggest part is staying mentally locked in."

The learning curve is indeed steep, but the Panthers believe in Pike.

Even after drafting Clausen in the second round, they thought Pike was too good to pass up in the sixth. At Cincinnati, Pike was in the Heisman Trophy discussion (as was Clausen) last season before he missed three games with a broken left arm. Still, in just 10 games, Pike tossed 29 touchdown passes against just six interceptions.

"He's a smart guy that's played a lot of college football," head coach John Fox said. "He's learning our system, and I think he's doing fine."

Draft day – or rather draft days – were stressful for Pike. He knew realistically that he wouldn't be drafted on the first day, so he played some golf during the first round, but family rolled into town for the second day, when the second and third rounds were held.

They all ended up having to wait until the third and final day, but Pike believes it was worth the wait.

"When Carolina picked me, I was extremely happy," Pike said. "I love it here and think it's a place where in a year or two you can grow. It's a great place for a young quarterback to be.

"I've done a good job of telling myself to go out every day and just play. When you're in the NFL, you have to play every day like it is your last – you never know what's going to happen."

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