Carolina Panthers backup quarterback Garrett Gilbert hasn’t actually sweated in his game day jersey in almost a year.
In a 2017 preseason game against Pittsburgh in late August, Gilbert, then the third-string quarterback behind Cam Newton and Derek Anderson, had 17 pass attempts (he completed 12) and 99 yards.
It wasn’t extraordinarily memorable. Most third-string action isn’t.
But now, Gilbert has a chance to be “the guy behind Cam Newton,” which, in preseason language, means “The Guy.”
The Panthers did not re-sign Anderson, the longtime backup, this spring, instead bringing in former Houston backup Taylor Heinicke and undrafted free agent rookie Kyle Allen.
Head coach Ron Rivera said Newton will likely play a series against Buffalo on Thursday night but that Gilbert will then come in for some snaps with the first-team offense.
“I’m excited,” Gilbert said after Tuesday’s practice, the last before the team flies to New York. “It’s been almost a year now since I’ve put that game jersey on. So it’ll be exciting. I’m really looking forward to it.”
Rivera also said that he wants to get Heinicke, with whom Gilbert is competing for the backup spot, relatively equal time to create a fair competition.
Yet Heinicke’s time will likely be largely with the second and third team. Gilbert has been in the Panthers’ system for a little over a year, and that has been a helpful advantage.
“You can see the confidence in which he just gets up there and handles things,” Rivera said. “He’s got a strong arm, we know that. So that’s solid. But now it’s really just knowing the offense, the intricacies of what we’re trying to do and then taking it and translating it. So far it’s been pretty solid. I’m excited to watch him and Heinicke and seeing how they both do.”
It will take multiple preseason games for Rivera to decide who the backup will be. Gilbert doesn’t want to worry about that quite yet.
“You know, that’s not something that I try and concern myself with,” Gilbert said. “My job, I feel like, hasn’t changed. It’s still to come out here every day, improve, be the best quarterback I can be. And then we’ll go into meetings and I’ll learn from it, take my coaching and come out tomorrow and improve upon that.
“If I just focus on my daily process, I’ll continue to improve. That’s what I can control. That’s what I’ve concerned myself with on a daily basis, is what I can control.”