CHARLOTTE – Quarterback Brian St. Pierre has more years of service in the NFL than quarterback Tony Pike has months of service, but the seven-year veteran and the rookie both find themselves in new territory.
Both feel as close to getting their first NFL start as they ever have.
Head coach John Fox didn't officially rule out Jimmy Clausen (concussion) as starter for Sunday's game against the Baltimore Ravens after Clausen missed practice Wednesday, but he also didn't rule out St. Pierre.
One day after St. Pierre joined the active roster and five days after he joined the practice squad, Fox said that either Pike or St. Pierre would "more than likely" get the start against the Ravens.
"Right now we've not made a decision on the starter," Fox said. "They're not guys that we've seen a whole lot of. We're going to put in a plan, see how they execute the plan and make a decision sometime before game time."
St. Pierre said "there's no doubt" that this is the closest he's ever been to possibly starting an NFL game. That's hard to fathom given that St. Pierre was working out at his old high school and taking care of his 18-month-old son just a week ago, but it isn't hard to fathom when you consider his previous situations.
"I've been behind Kurt Warner, who's probably going to be in the Hall of Fame, and Ben Roethlisberger – who is on his way – with first-round draft picks backing them up," Pierre said. "That's been my history in the league, and that's why I've been a three and not played a whole lot.
"I don't know what's going to happen. Tony has certainly been in this offense a lot longer than I have. I'm just trying to learn and take the reps when they give them to me."
The most ironic part of the situation may be that St. Pierre, who was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers around the time of Pike's junior prom, is learning at least as much from Pike as Pike is learning from him.
"It's kind of balanced," Pike said. "I'm kind of helping him learn our stuff, but he's been in Baltimore, he's been in Pittsburgh. He's got a lot of good advice to offer.
"It's a good competition, and at the same time we're trying to help each other out."
Pike, who played in a spread offense at the University of Cincinnati, just reached the point where he can refer in the past tense to the process he endured to learn the Panthers' pro-style offense.
"It took awhile," said Pike, whose learning curve was lengthened more by an academic calendar at Cincinnati that forced him to join the Panthers later than Clausen and the rest of the team's draft picks. "It was a long process, but I feel like the only thing missing now is the actual game experience."
Pike is now able to test his knowledge by teaching St. Pierre.
"It's pretty different from what I'm used to, but I can adapt," St. Pierre said of the Panthers playbook. "Some of it is overlap, but some of it is quite a bit different.
"I'm just here trying to learn and help this team. This is a good, young group. The record doesn't say it right now, but it's a good, young group, and they're still playing hard."
St. Pierre readily admits he feels the generation gap with Carolina's quarterbacks – "I'm only 30 but I feel ancient going into the QB room with those young pups," he said.
Still, he feels they have lots in common.
St. Pierre didn't start the season on an NFL roster and Pike was far from guaranteed a spot when final cuts came around, but both feel they now have a chance to solidify their standing.
"This is my eighth year and I've played hardly at all, so it's hard to stay in the league that long doing that," St. Pierre said. "But the coaches that I've been with have always thought that I provided value to the team."
Said Pike: "To have a chance to play in this league is truly a blessing. It's not an opportunity that comes along every day. For me and Brian, the attitude is to make the most of it and do everything we can to show the coaches and organization that we can do it."