By John Delong
At the end of each of the Carolina Panthers’ voluntary summer-school sessions, David Carr has walked off the field smiling and joking with teammates.
There is no way to tell yet if Carr will flourish or founder in the role of backup quarterback, but it seems clear that he is happy to be a Panther.
Carr’s five seasons as the starter in Houston, after he was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2002 NFL Draft, were full of frustrations. So even though Jake Delhomme is set as the starter here, Carr considers this an important and refreshing career move.
The enthusiasm shows all over his face.
“If I look excited, it’s because I am excited,” Carr said. “It’s going great. I feel two things every time I leave the practice field. I know I’m a better quarterback than when I came out of college. And I know I’m in a better situation than I’ve been in in the last five years.
“For a quarterback, those two things, you can’t ask for much more than that.”
Carr signed a two-year, $6.3 million contract in April, choosing the Panthers over a similar offer from Seattle.
He was released by the Texans after they signed Matt Schaub as a free agent.
He carried a heavy burden there as the expansion team’s first draft pick, and a No. 1 overall pick at that. He started all but four games in five seasons, including all 16 last season. But the Texans have gone 22-53 in that time and have not won more than seven games in a season, and that prompted them to go a new direction with Schaub.
Carr doesn’t downplay his frustrations in Houston. He spent much of that time running for his life, sacked 249 times – one shy of 50 sacks a season. He was 302 of 442 (68.3 percent) for 2,767 yards and 11 touchdowns last season but was sacked 41 times.
“This is a good fit for me because the last five years have been difficult,” Carr said. “It’s been fun playing the game, but not having the success I wanted and the team wanted, it was tough. It weighed a lot on us. So being in this situation now, it’s good. Being able to go out and throw the ball around for a good football team that protects you and catches balls and makes plays and plays defense, that’s the best situation I could ask for.”
He is particularly excited about playing for Coach John Fox and Jeff Davidson, the Panthers’ new offensive coordinator.
The demands, and the approach, are far different than he felt in Houston.
“The coaching staff is great,” Carr said. “It’s exactly what I wanted in a coaching staff. It’s a laid-back group. I mean, their motto is you can have fun but make sure you know what you’re doing. And that makes guys more responsible. There’s more team unity, they take more ownership in it. They just put it on you instead of going around beating guys down. So that’s been positive for me.”
And he is already feeling confident that he will be able to use his strengths whenever he’s in the game, because that’s what the new offense is geared to do. It’ll play to Delhomme’s strengths, and Steve Smith’s strengths, and DeShaun Foster’s and DeAngelo Williams’ strengths.
“I think the best thing Jeff and those guys do, they don’t necessarily come in with their offense and quote-unquote ‘what we do,’” Carr said. “They come in looking at the talent they have around and see what they do well, and they plug them into those situations and they put the plays in accordingly. And I think that’s the best thing you can do.
“I’ve been around five years, and I’ve seen a lot of offenses. In five years, I’ve seen four or five different versions. And the way they’re doing it here is the best way you can do it. Run a mixture of everything. It’s about what New England does. They don’t run an offense, they run everything. They run what fits their personnel this year. New England is going to have different players this year, so their plays are going to be different. And it’s the same with these guys.”
For sure, not starting will be different for him. But that’s the least of his concerns right now.
He is re-energized, and he’s too refreshed to have concerns.
“Not working with the first group, that’s been a change,” he said. “When you do something for five years, all spring and fall and it becomes natural to be with that first group, it starts to sink in when you’re not. Subconsciously it’s still hard because you want to go in there and do what you can. But they’ve been giving me plenty of reps, as many as I can handle. So it’s been good. I have no complaints about anything that’s going on right now.”
■ John Delong can be reached at [email protected].