This isn’t the way Derek Anderson wants to be an NFL starter.
A former Pro Bowl quarterback, Anderson has been Cam Newton’s backup for three seasons with the Carolina Panthers. He wants to be a starter in the NFL but not at the risk of Newton’s potentially missing regular-season time because of a cracked rib.
But Anderson, 31 and in his 10th season in the NFL, is the Panthers’ first option on the depth chart after Newton, who the team expects will be ready for Week 1. On top of that, Anderson and his wife, Mallory, are expecting their first child any day, with their Aug. 23 due date having passed.
“There’s great joy that’s going to join us shortly, and it’s something we’ve been looking forward to as a family for quite some time,” Anderson said Monday after practice. “It is stressful just because I have a job and an obligation to my teammates and my team, but also to my wife and my family. Trying to juggle both of those things here is very important to me.”
Anderson and Panthers coach Ron Rivera promise it’s business as usual in preparation for Carolina’s season opener Sept. 7 at Tampa Bay. Anderson won’t change the way he approaches the game, and the Panthers won’t alter a game plan that still has Newton as the starter.
“(It will be) same preparation that I go through every year for 10 weeks on Week 1,” Anderson said. “I prepare and get ready to play, study my opponent and know their tendencies, go back and look at what they did. ... If I got to go, I got to go and be ready to win a football game.”
Rivera said in the past three years the team has never put together different game plans for Newton and Anderson. Rivera said Anderson can execute the same plays – including zone-read plays – the Panthers would call for Newton, despite Newton being one of the most prolific dual-threat quarterbacks in NFL history.
If Anderson, who is expected to start Thursday’s exhibition finale in Pittsburgh, has to start a regular-season game, nothing will change.
“Yes, obviously, we’ll have to knock some rust off, but I think he’ll be OK,” Rivera said.
In three seasons, Anderson has gone 4-for-4 for 58 yards, all in two gamesin 2012. With 50 snaps in three exhibition games this preseason, Anderson is 14-of-22 for 234 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.
Baltimore selected Anderson in the sixth round of the 2005 draft. He never saw the field for the Ravens, who cut him three weeks into the regular season. He was claimed by Cleveland the next day.
Before the quarterback controversy in Cleveland between Brian Hoyer and Johnny Manziel, the starting quarterback position for the Browns was a laughingstock. Since the Browns drafted Tim Couch No. 1 overall in 1999, 20 quarterbacks have started at least one game for Cleveland.
Of those 20, including former Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme and current Panthers quarterbacks coach Ken Dorsey, only Anderson went to a Pro Bowl as a member of the Browns.
In 2007, Anderson was 10-5 in his 15 starts and threw for 3,787 yards, 29 touchdowns and 19 interceptions. His 12.7 yards per completion topped the NFL.
But Anderson was never able to repeat that 2007 success. He injured his right knee late in a disappointing 2008 season and was released after a 2009 season in which he threw three touchdowns and 10 interceptions in eight games.
He played in 12 games for the Cardinals in 2010, but again his mistakes cost him. He threw seven touchdowns compared with 10 interceptions and completed 51.7 percent of his passes.
“He’s seen more ball, he’s seen more looks, and you can’t replace that experience – good, bad or indifferent,” Dorsey said. “He’s had experience in good times and bad times. And the bad times matter just as much as the good times. That experience helps, and overall his demeanor and attitude have been awesome.”
Anderson thinks he’s even better than he was in 2007. He recognizes defenses and calls protections better than he did seven years ago in his third season in the league.
“I feel like I’m probably better mentally now than I was then,” Anderson said. “I think I’ve grown the most in the past two or three years.”
And now he’s about to be a father. He has permission to bring his cell phone to team and positional meetings. If his wife needs him while he is at practice, she has head athletic trainer Ryan Vermillion’s number.
“We’re just going to kind of play it by ear and see what happens,” Anderson said. “Not 100 percent sure what’s going to happen but just roll with it as it comes.”
Anderson was talking about the baby, but it applies to football, as well.