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Who Deserves the Backup Role?

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Now that the Panthers have officially named Cam Newton as their starting QB for the regular season, one question still remains: who will play backup to Newton?

On one hand, there’s Jimmy Clausen, the former second-round pick of the Panthers who was universally hailed as an absolute steal for the Panthers. Clausen was also supposedly more NFL-ready than any other QB in the draft, and the Panthers wasted no time at all putting him into the starting role when their season started to go south under Matt Moore. However, Clausen ended up having an absolutely atrocious rookie season, going 1-9 with 3 TDs and 9 INTs en route to a 58.4 quarterback rating– the lowest in the league by a long shot. Clausen was quickly put under pressure to perform for Carolina as soon as Newton was drafted this year, but Clausen has looked average-at-best this preseason, throwing for only one TD and two INTs. The TD came in week one, when Clausen was given a chance to start.

Yesterday, given the chance to start against third-stringers versus the Pittsburgh Steelers, Clausen looked absolutely horrible. Clausen went 7/17 with one INT, and looked lost at multiple points. He certainly didn’t look like the “steal” that the Panthers had drafted only a year prior. If a QB can’t perform against an opposing team’s third-stringers– typically practice squad caliber players– what does that leave him? Certainly not a starting role. But a backup role?

It depends entirely on his competition.

That brings us, of course, to Derek Anderson– the seventh-year veteran who the Panthers signed this past offseason after Anderson was released on July 28th by the Arizona Cardinals. Anderson was certainly the person with the most to gain heading into the preseason. Newton was the QB who came out of nowhere with Auburn last season to become a national superstar, and Clausen was heading into the preseason with likely his last real opportunity to prove he deserved a starting job with the Panthers. Anderson, on the other hand, was seen as someone who was brought in to help mentor Newton and Clausen in the ways of new offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski’s offense after Anderson had played under Chudzinski in San Diego.

Anderson has come out of nowhere this preseason to surprise a lot of people, myself included. In week one versus the New York Giants, Anderson went 3/4 with 71 yards and one TD. Clausen went 4/7 for 69 yards, one TD and one INT in the same week.

Anderson didn’t get any playing time in weeks two and three, but Clausen did himself no favors. He not only lost the starting job to Cam Newton, but in weeks two and three combined, Clausen was 13/22 with no touchdowns.

Now, take into consideration yesterday’s game versus the Steelers. Anderson was playing against a mix of second and first string players while Clausen got the opportunity to play against the third team. Clausen would obviously fare a little bit better than Anderson, right?

Nope.

Clausen looked completely hopeless and Anderson threw for 179 yards and one TD while going 11/19. For many Panthers fans, this was quite the wakeup call.

Clausen simply is not going to be the QB he was thought to be when he was brought into the Panthers’ organization. He’s had plenty of chances, and has taken none of them. He not only lost his starting job to Cam Newton, likely the future face of the franchise, but got badly outplayed by a seven-year veteran who has experience with the system of the offensive coordinator.

Anderson would clearly be the better choice to play backup to Newton. Clausen could very well be an average or slightly above average QB for another team, but while he’s here, he should be nothing more than a backup. If Panthers brass can find a way to make Clausen trade bait for a decent player who can fill a hole in the roster, then that would certainly be an even more attractive option.

The writing is on the wall, and time is certainly up for Clausen’s starting chances in Carolina. His chances at even a backup role appear to be gone as well, or should be at any rate. His last saving grace may be if Ron Rivera decides that he doesn’t want to put someone with Clausen’s potential lower than second on the depth chart. But if Rivera is thinking anything like most others, until that potential is realized– if ever– Clausen has no spot in any place other than the third QB spot on the depth chart.

Time’s up for Clausen in Carolina.

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