As Pike's role shrinks with Panthers, his optimism doesn't
By Darin Gantt
Tony Pike wants to compete, and has impressed people with his ability to do so.
But with camp over and regular season preparations under way, the Carolina Panthers fourth-string quarterback knows there's only so much he can do.
There's no guarantee he'll even play Saturday night against the New York Jets, after getting one series and a quick hook in the opener against Baltimore. Even his practice repetitions are extremely limited, but Pike was upbeat about the few chances he does have.
"Yeah, it's hard," Pike admitted Thursday. "At the same point I went through it my first few years in college, so now it's the same thing. The biggest thing is to take the mental reps and obviously, the coaches know you haven't had the live action, but that doesn't make an excuse for missing a read or missing a hot.
"For me, it's paying attention to what these guys ahead of me are doing, and then when I get a chance, use it as much as I can to get those live reps and get what I can out of it."
Pike came into camp with a strong resume. He had a 16-3 record as a starter at Cincinnati, and many expected him to be a solid mid-round pick. But he slipped to the back of the sixth round, where the Panthers stopped the free-fall at the 204th overall pick, even though they already had the first three slots on their depth chart filled.
Pike's biggest problem, however, wasn't any of the players above him but his school's calendar. Since Cincinnati's on the quarter system, a league rule prevented him from showing up to the Panthers until the end of exams. That cost him two weeks of practices in June. He caught the tail end of the work, but was woefully behind.
"Coming into OTAs (organized team activities) and getting a late start, it was tough," he said. "The day I got here we were doing two-minute, no-huddle. That's kind of getting thrown in there.
"At the beginning of camp, we kind of go over everything again. So to get it fresh and to get it from the start the first time, that helps a lot. I feel extremely comfortable out there. And the next part is, like all quarterbacks, you've got to carry over what you know into that live action. And the only way you're going to get that is to get in."
The Panthers knew Pike would miss the time when they drafted him, but considered him too good a value to pass. They like his size (though he clearly needs to add some muscle to his wiry 6-foot-6 frame) and his intangibles, making him a project they'd like to develop.
"It's not anybody's fault; that's just what the rules are," Panthers coach John Fox said. "He's a smart guy that's played a lot of college football. He's learning our system, and I think he's doing fine."
The only problem for Pike is, his chance might not come for another two weeks.
Given that the Panthers starters are going to play most if not all of the first half Saturday night against the New York Jets, Pike might only get a few snaps if any once Jimmy Clausen and Hunter Cantwell get theirs. He even shrugged and pointed to the preseason finale at Pittsburgh - where the starters will play a series if at all - as his best chance to impress.
That creates an incredible pressure to perform when he does get a chance, since Cantwell has a year's head start in this system and Moore and Jimmy Clausen appear entrenched as the one and two.
"It is a little bit (of pressure)," Pike said. "But at the same time, that's what the NFL is about, when you get your chance you have to maximize it. You see guys in the past like Tom Brady who fill in for an injury and never look back. My goal is, whether I get one rep or 20 reps, to make the most of each one. And that's what I'm trying to do out there.
"For me, if I get a series go in there and make the most of it. If not, just continue to grow mentally and look forward to probably the Pittsburgh game."
The tough part was last week in Baltimore, when he got three plays and only one pass attempt (it was incomplete), but was then pulled so Cantwell could run the game-ending two-minute drill. Getting that first pro action was good, but having it taken away stung a bit.
"Yeah, just because you get in there and get a little taste, then you're left until your next chance," he said. "To get that out of the way, the nerves gone. It's tough when you don't get the reps in practice and Hunter's been doing well.
"What the coaches say goes, and I'm going to go with that, and leave everything else up to learning mentally and making the most of your chances."
Where the quarterbacks stand
Any mystery about the Carolina Panthers intentions at quarterback should be cleared up Saturday night by the order in which they play their passers.
Matt Moore will start, of course, and get most if not all of the first half.
When Jimmy Clausen goes next, it's a clear sign they've given him the second job. Throughout camp, he and Hunter Cantwell had alternated work with the second and third teams, with Cantwell working second at Fan Fest and Clausen in the preseason opener at Baltimore.
The original intent was for Cantwell to follow Moore against the Jets, but that plan changed last week.
Just as most of Tony Pike's repetitions in practice were taken away after a week of camp to allow Clausen and Cantwell more work, Cantwell's reps have come exclusively with the threes for the last few days.
That's as everyone expected from the day Clausen was drafted, leaving the only unresolved question is what happens with Pike.
There were early considerations that the Panthers could keep four, but Pike's diminishing work and needs at other positions make that unlikely. It's possible (but not definite) that if waived he'd be claimed by another team, and there's no certainty that if he went unclaimed he'd choose to sign on the practice squad here.
They'd like to retain him (especially since Moore's working on a one-year deal), but they're going to have to decide how many projects to keep.
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