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Carolina Panthers: Cam Newton’s backup is second team, not second rate

Tom Sorensen
Tom Sorensen has been a columnist at The Observer for 20 years and has been at the paper for 25, writing about nearly every sport in the Carolinas.
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Jeff Siner - jsiner@charlotteobserver.com
Former Pro Bowl quarterback Derek Anderson (3), in his fourth season with the Carolina Panthers, has adapted to his role as backup to Cam Newton.

SPARTANBURG The Carolina Panthers’ offense has the ball near the goal line. The offensive line moves right, and the running back is about to run right and the defense moves with them.

The tall Panthers quarterback in the red jersey hands the ball to the back, but oh, now, he’s faking. He keeps the ball and takes off left as if propelled, encountering nothing but fresh air.

One defender is there, responsible for the quarterback and tight end Mike McNeill. Derek Anderson continues to roll left, hits McNeill with a touchdown pass and backpedals toward the sideline, laughing all the way.

“I feel like I play the best when I’m loose, aggressive, but also having fun with the guys,” says Anderson, 6-foot-6, who backs up Cam Newton. “I try to make sure when I’m in the huddle I’m talking to the guys.

“I try to encourage them because, especially in camp, there’s a lot of pressure to be perfect. And it can be stressful. And I want to be the kind of guy that can break that tension. I play better, and I think those guys play better, too.”

Anderson, a 10-year veteran from Oregon State, enjoys his work. The Panthers enjoy his work. Quarterbacks coach Ken Dorsey says he’s comfortable putting Anderson into a game. He praises Anderson for his preparation and his effort and his sense of humor.

Quarterbacks share a room for up to three hours. They better be funny.

On Sunday, Anderson looks at a receiver near the right sideline and snaps a no-look pass over the middle to Marvin McNutt.

And then, when the first-team offense takes the field, Anderson assumes the posture with which Panthers fans are familiar. He stands and watches.

Anderson has played 59 NFL games, starting 43. He made the Pro Bowl in 2007 with Cleveland.

Since he became a Panther in 2011, he has played in eight games. In three seasons, he has thrown four passes and completed each. His Panthers passer rating is 118.8. Newton’s is 86.4.

The offense is Newton’s and perhaps the team will be. Anderson knows his role.

Does he accept it?

Most people would love Anderson’s job. He makes big money, and when fans watch, he doesn’t appear to have to do anything.

But those fans never threw 29 touchdown passes in a season.

Is it tough, on Sunday, to watch?

“It is,” Anderson says. “It’s tough. But at the same time I get as much joy from helping Cam with one thing during the week, and then he goes out on Sunday and does it right and completes (the pass) and we win a game and get a touchdown off that one thing.

“I feel like I’m helping. And the scout team I take seriously, I watch (the opponent’s) offense and I try to simulate stuff for our defense as much as I can. Whatever I can do to help our guys I do.”

Anderson, 31, signed a one-year contract with Carolina in March. Was he tempted to go to a team with which he’d have an opportunity to compete for a starting job?

“Um,” is the first word Anderson speaks. Five seconds pass before he adds another.

“I’m not going to say that I wasn’t,” he says. “There were some other things out there, but obviously I’m very happy and my family and wife are, and we have a little one coming, like, any time. I enjoy it here, and why go somewhere else and have to learn a bunch of new teammates?”

The Andersons are due Aug. 23, the day after the exhibition against New England. Anderson will be there for the birth. The child will be their first.

“I saw a face the other day,” says Anderson. “That was pretty cool. I don’t know what it is (boy or girl). It has my big old schnoz, so I hope it’s a boy. They said it’s like 6 pounds already.”

Of course, Anderson would like to start. But life is more than what you do for a living. If he’s not having a good time with the Panthers, he fakes it beautifully.

When the quarterbacks run after practice, Anderson, who dropped about 15 pounds during the offseason, will sneak up behind a fast one such as Newton or Joe Webb and, Daytona 500 like, blow past him, whooping all the way.

After practice Sunday, Anderson and rookie receiver Kelvin Benjamin play catch. Anderson runs out and Benjamin gestures at him to keep running, keep running, as in run onto the next field.

Benjamin winds up and flings the ball at least 50 yards. Anderson applies his bootleg speed, runs it down and catches it.

Anderson is an inch taller than the rookie. If he doesn’t get to throw passes this season, maybe he’ll get to catch them.

Sorensen: 704-358-5119; tsorensen@charlotteobserver.com; Twitter: @tomsorensen
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