Panthers coach John Fox and ailing No. 1 quarterback Jake Delhomme again proved to be capable foes in the chess game with the media Wednesday afternoon, refusing to divulge who will start at quarterback Sunday against visiting Tampa Bay. Both even went as far as to avoid answering questions about which finger Delhomme had injured on his throwing hand in the loss to the Jets last Sunday.
That said, all signs point toward Matt Moore starting against the Bucs, and perhaps for the rest of the season. Moore, in his third season out of Oregon State, said he is a better quarterback than he was when he made the only three previous starts of his career in 2007. Teammates agree. This is precisely what they had to say Wednesday:
Moore practiced earlier Wednesday but Delhomme did not. Delhomme is "day-to-day," Fox said, and the injured finger is still broken. Fox declined to name a starter for Sunday's game and said he has not considered placing Delhomme on injured reserve.
Delhomme would be "hard-pressed" to grip a football right now, he said. He also said his pinky is not the injured finger. When asked if he expects the injury to heal soon enough for him to play Sunday, he replied: "I don't know."
But Delhomme sure seemed like he is resigned to Moore being the starter. If not, than he gave thoughtful answers to what for him were hypothetical questions: "I think Matt's going to do an outstanding job" when he plays again, Delhomme said. When asked if Moore could orchestrated the entire Panthers' playbook -- which he did not do in 2007 -- Delhomme replied, "I wouldn't see why not."
Delhomme also speculated on how Moore could progress as a quarterback. "You've got to learn on the job," he said. "Until you're out there playing, that's when you learn."
While Fox and Delhomme seemed to know the plan for Sunday, Moore looked like he was clueless. "I'm here. I'm I guess a puppet," he said. "If they want to use me..."
If they do use Moore Sunday, he says he is confident. Moore is more consistent and no longer makes the little mistakes that he made when he started the final three games of the 2007 season, he said. The game has slowed down for him. Whereas in 2007, he felt the need to get rid of the ball quickly and often threw to one of his first two options, he understands now that when he drops back to pass, he will usually have time to scan the field. That means he looks more to his fourth read and checkdown backs.
Moore is also more accustomed to the tempo of the NFL game, he says, which helps him relax on the sideline and prepare himself for another offensive series. He is much more comfortable with the playbook than he was in 2007, and does not consider himself an NFL novice any longer. In fact, he says, he tries to approach the game like a veteran and tells himself, "I'm not a young guy anymore."
Moore, like Delhomme, entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent. He began this season as the Panthers' No. 3 quarterback, much like he was when he joined the team in 2007. That year he made his first career start in a December home game against Seattle. He won two of three starts, although the second win came against a Tampa Bay team resting many starters for the playoffs.
Moore knows he has yet to prove himself in the NFL. "I've just got to win to prove myself," he says. He may get an opportunity Sunday, which he would relish. "The lifespan (of a player) in the NFL is not too long, so if you can do anything to extend that opportunity, that's good."
In addition to Delhomme, a couple offensive teammates spoke about Moore Wednesday. Tight end Jeff King agrees that Moore looks more like an NFL quarterback than he did in 2007. "You can tell he's much more relaxed. He knows where he wants to go with the football," King said. "He's learning to play the position."
Tight end Gary Barnidge says having Moore in the lineup will not change much on offense. Said Barnidge: "I think he's a great quarterback."