The Panthers would owe No. 3 quarterback Jimmy Clausen $923,000 if he’s still on the roster next month – a hefty sum for a player who was inactive for every game last season.
But coach Ron Rivera did not close the door on a Clausen return, saying he appreciated how the former Notre Dame quarterback handled himself last year after he lost his starting job to No. 1 pick and NFL Rookie of the Year Cam Newton.
“Everybody’s got to compete. That’s just the way it is,” Rivera said Thursday at the NFL scouting combine. “Jimmy knows our philosophy and how we are. For what we did last year and what we asked of Jimmy, I thought he handled the situation very well. He’s most certainly a guy that’s in the mix in terms of coming back next year and competing.”
Clausen, the Panthers’ second-round pick in 2010, was expected to sit a year behind Matt Moore. But Moore’s turnover problems and, later, a season-ending shoulder injury, forced Clausen into the lineup earlier than anticipated.
Clausen lost nine of his 10 starts and had the league’s worst passer rating. The Panthers finished last in offense while scoring 16 offensive touchdowns – 31 fewer than 2011 with Newton behind center.
But Rivera and his offensive coaches praised Clausen’s attitude after the Panthers drafted Newton and signed veteran Derek Anderson as Newton’s backup.
Anderson will become an unrestricted free agent, and there are indications the Panthers are interested in bringing in a quarterback whose skill set more closely resembles Newton’s. The Panthers would like to find a backup who could run the read option, an effective wrinkle in Rob Chudzinski’s offense, if Newton was out of the lineup.
Former N.C. State quarterback Russell Wilson fits the description. Wilson, who transferred to Wisconsin for his final season, met with the Panthers during the Senior Bowl and is confident he could pick up Chudzinski’s offense quickly after learning the Badgers’ playbook in three weeks last summer.
Wilson, a projected late-round pick, and the other quarterbacks will throw for scouts today.
CAM ON THE BEACH: Quarterback coach George Whitfield, who worked with Newton before last year’s draft, is training Andrew Luck, this year’s presumptive No. 1 pick. Whitfield spent about four weeks with Newton prior to the 2011 combine.
Whitfield also staged a private workout for Newton in San Diego, attended by a small media contingent a few weeks before the combine. Whitfield recalled showing up the morning of the workout at the beach house Newton and his family were renting, and finding Newton gone.
A few minutes later, Whitfield spotted a solitary figure jogging down the beach. It was Newton, who wanted to stick to his routine by starting his day with a 2-mile run.
Whitfield was concerned Newton would have tired legs for the workout.
“I got this,” Newton told him.
Newton proceeded to go through a passing session that impressed ESPN analyst and former NFL quarterback Trent Dilfer, who was among those in attendance.
SPEAKING UP: Most of the offseason talk about the Panthers’ linebackers has centered on the two who missed the majority of the 2011 season. Lost in the shuffle is the one who played – James Anderson, who set a team record with 174 tackles after season-ending injuries to Jon Beason and Thomas Davis.
Rivera said Anderson’s increased leadership responsibilities and willingness to play through pain were just as impressive as the tackles.
“When we first got started he was not a very vocal guy,” Rivera said. “But as his role increased, you could see his confidence grow as a linebacker and took a leadership role.”
Rivera said Anderson played the second half of the season with an ankle injury but did not miss any games.
RUSH HOUR: Jyles Tucker, signed to a one-year deal last week, can play linebacker and defensive end.
But Rivera, who was with Tucker for four years in San Diego, said the Panthers plan to use him as a pass-rushing end.
Tucker, 28, who played at Wake Forest, started 12 games and had 5 1/2 sacks for San Diego in 2008. But he has played in only 10 games, with one sack, in the three years since.
“We’ve got to find out if Jyles has a little juice left like he had a couple years ago for us in San Diego,” Rivera said.