Derek Anderson talks pretty slowly. He uses the word “dude” a lot. You might think this laidback approach would translate to the way Anderson plays football.
But whenever the backup quarterback for the Carolina Panthers is elevated to starter – which looks very likely to happen Monday night because of Cam Newton’s concussion – he plays the position like he’s a New York cabbie. Decisions are made very quickly, on the fly, and everyone else better be ready.
Teammates call Anderson by his initials “D.A.,” and they understand that he’s a different type of quarterback than Newton.
Said wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin: “You know D.A. is going to get it out quick – quicker, probably, than Cam. We’re going to have to be fast on our routes.”
One of Newton’s greatest assets is his confidence – although it occasionally works against him. The reigning NFL Most Valuable Player believes he can recover from any bad situation in the pocket with his incredible athleticism, which is why he often holds the ball so long. Newton likes to wait a split-second longer on a downfield route and then sling the ball deep if at all possible, which is a big reason why the Panthers were No. 1 in the NFL in scoring last season.
When Newton’s protection breaks down, though – as it did against Denver in the Super Bowl and as it has several times this season – he is prone to taking numerous sacks. Anderson, on the other hand, knows he can’t run like Newton and instead will throw the ball within about two seconds on nearly every play.
“I think he takes what he can get when he plays,” head coach Ron Rivera said Thursday when I asked him what Anderson does well. “Unlike Cam – who is going to stand tall in there and maybe skip an opportunity and work something downfield – Derek is going to be quick to pull the trigger and make a quick decision and go forward.”
Third start against Bucs for Anderson?
This sometimes can be a logical approach on a team with a patchwork offensive line. Carolina will have one of those once again Monday if left tackle Michael Oher (concussion) can’t play. Anderson threw for more yards in one quarter Sunday (172) than Newton did in three (165).
A 12-year veteran, Anderson is 20-25 as a starter in his career. He is 2-0 in six years at Carolina, with the two victories both coming against Tampa Bay in 2014. Anderson termed the prospect of facing the Bucs a third time “kind of weird.”
Those two Tampa Bay games in 2014 can remind us all of the way Anderson operates. In 74 passing attempts over the two games, he never had a gain of more than 26 yards. Anderson targeted either tight end Greg Olsen and wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin on 61 percent of his throws. Both of those receivers averaged nearly 100 yards per game when Anderson was playing, and Anderson threw for a respectable average of 253.5 yards in the two Tampa games.
More importantly, Anderson never threw an interception – and he went 2-0. Now, with Carolina 1-3 and flailing about, a third victory against Tampa seems essential.
Anderson said he has seen and talked with Newton this week, whom Anderson termed “frustrated” by the NFL’s concussion protocol and all the steps he will need to take before the quarterback returns (Newton has not practiced yet this week).
A half-dozen concussions
Anderson has had his own experience with concussions, having had at least six of them by his own reckoning. The last came in 2010 when he played for Arizona.
Said Anderson, who grew up in Oregon: “The worst one was my first one in high school. ... I don’t remember much of it. ... They told me we won the game after the game and I yelled at my sister for eating my chicken sandwich and my dad said: ‘You already ate it.’ But I’ve had enough (concussions) to know that every time is different. It’s something you can’t really mess with, you’ve just got to let the body heal.”
Anderson, 33, has had other opportunities to go elsewhere during his six-year run as Newton’s backup at Carolina. But he has forsaken them for a series of mostly one-year contracts with the Panthers. Why?
Said Anderson: “I’m dead honest when I say I really truly enjoy coming to work every day. ... Yes, the money’s great, but ultimately it’s about winning games and being with good dudes.”
Anderson has done a little bit of most things in his NFL career, including one Pro Bowl appearance (in 2007, while with Cleveland) and starting on “Monday Night Football” before. The Monday night game he would rather forget came in Arizona in 2010, when the Cardinals got hammered and Anderson didn’t play well.
An “MNF” TV camera caught Anderson late in the game briefly laughing with a teammate on the bench. Jon Gruden criticized Anderson for it on-air. When Anderson was asked what was so funny in his postgame news conference, Anderson verbally lashed out at the reporter, cursed several times, declared that he devoted his “heart and soul” to the game and then stormed out of his press conference.
No flare-ups with Carolina
That, of course, was a long time ago. Anderson has had no flare-ups like that in Carolina and is mostly known for those two games in 2014 when he won in Newton’s absence, helping the Panthers eke out an NFC South championship. During the second game, Anderson went on a rare scramble, ran for a first down and did Newton’s exaggerated first-down gesture as a tribute to his teammate.
“That was just about supporting him,” Anderson said, “because he’s always been supportive of me.”
It will likely be Newton supporting Anderson from the sideline on Monday, although Newton has not been declared “out” as of yet. Assuming Anderson plays, though, his receivers better look back quickly – or else the ball will hit them squarely in the back of the helmet.
“He’s probably better than a lot of starters,” tight end Greg Olsen said of the idea of Anderson starting. “So if that’s the case, we’re going to roll with it.”