Will Garrett Gilbert prove to be Carolina's backup plan?

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CHARLOTTE – For the first time in a while, Garrett Gilbert's football life has settled. For now.

He spent the entire 2017 season with the Panthers – a year that started on the practice squad before a promotion to the active roster as the No. 3 quarterback in Week 7.

Consider the many stops he encountered previously:

  •  Five-star prospect enrolled at the University of Texas in 2009 and replaced injured starter Colt McCoy in the national championship loss to Alabama.
  •  Transferred from Texas to Southern Methodist after losing starting job ahead of 2012 season. Finished his two-year career at SMU with 6,460 yards and 36 touchdown passes.
  •  Drafted by the Rams in the sixth round of the 2014 NFL Draft and was later cut from their practice squad.
  •  Added to the Patriots' practice squad late in 2014 and earned a Super Bowl ring after New England topped Seattle.
  •  Waived by New England and claimed by Detroit ahead of 2015 training camp.
  •  Spent majority of the 2016 season on the Raiders' practice squad.
  •  Signed by the Panthers on March 24, 2017.

"You never know with this league," Gilbert said as the first week of OTAs wrapped up. "But I feel very fortunate to be in this position. I'm excited about the opportunity with this group."

There is a really good opportunity here for Gilbert, if he can seize it.

The Panthers are in need of a backup to Cam Newton. Derek Anderson, who served as the backup since 2011, remains a free agent at 34 years old.

It's early, but head coach Ron Rivera said recently that Gilbert is the "leader in the clubhouse" for the No. 2 job. That said, a free agent addition between now and the start of training camp would surprise no one.

Knowing the situation, does Gilbert look at each practice as an opportunity to prove he can be this team's backup quarterback?

"That's not necessarily my attitude," Gilbert said. "I'm just trying to improve every day and learn everything. My goal and objective every day is to be the best quarterback I can be for this team.

"If (earning the backup job) is a byproduct, then so be it. It's not something I'm going to worry about because I can't control it."

Fair enough.

For what it's worth, Gilbert has looked the part during the first few OTA sessions. He's always had a strong arm, but he seems more at ease with everything a quarterback is tasked with before, during and after the snap.

"There's a comfort level that wasn't there at this time last year," Gilbert said. "I feel really good about that aspect of things – my comfort with the offense and the receivers. I feel better at the line of scrimmage talking to the guys. I'm communicating to guys and I* know* – as opposed to last year just trying to keep my head above water."

And new offensive coordinator Norv Turner can be a huge help with his progression.

"Norv has seen everything," Gilbert said. "He knows what he's talking about, and I'm all ears."

We'll see how the spring and summer plays out for Gilbert. Maybe the Panthers opt to bring in a more experienced backup. Maybe they don't. Either way, Gilbert believes he can lead Carolina to victory if needed at any point during the 2018 season.

"Absolutely," said Gilbert, who has not yet taken a snap in a regular season game. "I'm confident in myself and this group around me."

View photos from the first week of organized team activities.

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