For the first time since Cam Newton broke into the NFL as a record-setting rookie in 2011, the Carolina Panthers quarterback will have a new backup.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera confirmed Tuesday what had long been assumed (since Derek Anderson was not re-signed in free agency): The No. 2 QB is expected to come from the group of young passers working behind Newton during OTAs.
That list is led by Garrett Gilbert and Taylor Heinicke and also includes undrafted free agent Kyle Allen. Allen, the former Texas A&M and Houston QB, clearly is farther down the list.
“They look good. We’ve had a nice competition going there,” Rivera said of the backups. “I think Taylor and Garrett give us two guys that have been in the league a little bit, that have had some experience. They’re handling it very nicely. It’s good to see that kind of competition going on right now.”
While the Panthers certainly could sign a free agent QB before the season (Matt Moore, anyone?), Rivera said Gilbert and Heinicke have the skill set the Panthers are looking for.
“They’re both smart guys with good arms, make good decisions.”
A quick look at the battle to be Newton’s backup:
Height/weight: 6-4, 230
College: Played three years at Texas before transferring to SMU for his final two seasons.
NFL experience: 2 seasons
Strengths: Has ideal size and demonstrated a fairly strong arm and a good pocket presence last season while spending time on both the Panthers’ practice squad and active roster.
Football background: His dad, Gale, was a quarterback for eight years (Seattle, Buffalo, San Diego), and is the only player in NFL history to play for five consecutive Super Bowl teams.
The more you know: Gilbert replaced injured Texas starter Colt McCoy in the 2009 national championship game against Alabama. … He won a Super Bowl ring with the Patriots after joining their practice squad late in the 2014 season.
College: Old Dominion
NFL experience: 3 seasons
Strengths: While Heinicke lacks Gilbert’s stature and arm strength, he does have good mobility. Heinicke became only the 18th Division I quarterback to finish with 10,000 passing yards and 1,000 rushing yards.
Football background: Other than Newton, Heinicke is the only Panthers QB to attempt a pass in a regular-season game. Heinicke replaced an injured T.J. Yates in a Week 16 loss to Pittsburgh last season and completed one pass for 10 yards before leaving with a concussion. … Heinicke spent two seasons with Panthers offensive coordinator Norv Turner in Minnesota, but was never active for a game.
The more you know: Won the Walter Payton Award as the top FCS player in 2012 when he broke Steve McNair’s FCS single-season passing record with 5,076 yards.
Height/weight: 6-3, 210
College: Played two seasons at Texas A&M before transferring to Houston, where he played four games in 2017.
NFL experience: Rookie
Strengths: Has tremendous arm strength, which is a big reason why he was the nation’s top-rated quarterback leaving his Scottsdale, Ariz., high school in 2014.
Football background: Allen started as a freshman for A&M, but was benched shortly after throwing three pick-6s in a loss to Alabama. He stayed with the Aggies for another season before leaving for Houston, where he was benched after starting the first three games in 2017.
The more you know: Allen is well familiar with the rags-to-riches story of Hall of Fame quarterback Kurt Warner, who is the offensive coordinator at Allen’s high school. Warner sent Allen a text before Allen left for the Panthers’ rookie minicamp this month.