CHARLOTTE -- Vinny Testaverde, the 21-year veteran who joined the Carolina Panthers unexpectedly this season, was talking about developing quarterbacks this week, and being a former No. 1 overall pick and the oldest guy to ever win a start gives him a certain perspective.
A few lockers to his right, David Carr was quietly getting dressed, unwanted and about to shuffle out of the locker room (maybe for good), while rookie Matt Moore was about to come in and draw a crowd he neither expected nor needed.
"As a young quarterback starting out, the less pressure you put on him early in his career, the better he'll do," Testaverde said. "Give him time to develop into the quarterback everybody wants him to be."
His words were a prescription and a cautionary tale.
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Testaverde sort of got that time, fought through and made the most of it. Carr never got it and his career might be over. Jake Delhomme did and that's why there's a job waiting for him to get well and reclaim. Moore's treading on thin ice, perilously close to too much, too soon because the Panthers had no choice.
Tonight they'll look across Bank of America Stadium at the Dallas Cowboys and see more evidence, with Tony Romo and Brad Johnson turning the waiting game into NFL careers, one white-hot and new and the other steadily burning.
Welcome to the crucible that is an NFL quarterback, and the men who are either crushed by it or lifted high.
"It's the most delicate position on the field," longtime quarterback coach and guru Jerry Rhome said. "That's why these guys need the time."
"It takes time and good decision-making," Panthers general manager Marty Hurney said.
"I had time," Delhomme said. "And that made a huge difference for me."
But the problem for modern quarterbacks -- in an era of shortened attention spans and career spans -- is there's not nearly enough of it.
Rhome's from another era. An All-American at Tulsa in the mid-1960s, he spent four years playing in the NFL and 25 more as a coach.
He worked with glamour boys like Troy Aikman to the Washington assembly line of replaceable Super Bowl parts such as Doug Williams and Mark Rypien. Now he's a tutor to kids coming out in the draft, having most recently worked with Tennessee's Vince Young, who the Titans tried to cushion as long as finances and expectations would allow.
"Back in the old days, you had two or three years to develop a guy," Rhome said. "Mark Rypien never saw the field for years, but then when we needed him, he was ready to step in. Then you've got a guy like Vince, who had to be ready when he walked in the door.
"The days of developing guys are gone. There used to be a million guys on IR. That doesn't exist anymore."
Rhome wasn't speaking of any team directly, but there's strong anecdotal evidence that teams may have played fast and loose with the injured reserve list in years past.
The Panthers have tried to do the right thing, but circumstances kept preventing sticking to a patient plan.
They initially went into last year with two quarterbacks, figuring rookie Brett Basanez would last on the practice squad. He ended up on the roster when Delhomme hurt his thumb, and figured to be the third this year behind Delhomme and Carr before a preseason wrist injury knocked him out for the year and started the snowball rolling.
That led them to disrupt Dallas' plan, claiming Moore off waivers after final cuts when the Cowboys intended to keep two and bring him back on the practice squad.
"We toyed with keeping three quarterbacks and may have made a mistake there," Cowboys coach Wade Phillips said. "He played really well last week. He is a real smart guy and he is good under pressure, nothing seems to faze him. He has the right kind of temperament and he has a good arm.
"We have a quarterback around here that wasn't drafted and he turned out pretty good. We like Matt."
So do the Panthers, which creates the next decision.
Do they like Moore and Basanez enough to keep them as next year's two and three, or do they ditch Carr and find another veteran, which would force them to choose between the kids they want to bring along slowly?
"It really is the most important position to stay ahead at," Hurney said. "Part of that's because of some rule changes -- the offensive game has just become so much more complex. It takes a leader, it takes the intangibles, it takes a unique athlete to be able to handle the position, but it takes time as well."
Hurney's free to admit that the climate's not always conducive to raising young quarterbacks.
"With raised expectations," he said, "comes less patience."
He and coach John Fox have spent parts of the year on the hot seat. Such conditions can change the way you look at how you play your passers. For instance, the cynics would say, Testaverde might not have gotten so much time had Fox not been worried about their jobs.
The Panthers have always been clear about their preferences in handling Moore, with Fox saying recently, "Sometimes the worst thing you can do for young players is to put them out there."
There may be no better case study than Delhomme, who watched for six years in New Orleans (and making a trip overseas to play in the spring) before getting a chance to start with Carolina. He's openly advocated that plan, and thinks the Panthers have good prospects in Basanez and Moore, provided they're not wrecked. He's seen that in Carr, who never got a chance to catch his breath.
"History will show you that you're better off," he said, wheeling off a laundry list of failed quarterbacks who never had a chance. He mentioned his friend Peyton Manning as the exception, without pointing out the Colts were 3-13 his rookie year. Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger's another one, though he fell into the perfect spot for a kid to play, much as Delhomme did with Stephen Davis and a stellar defense in 2003.
"It's the individual, and who you have around you," Delhomme said. "That's the biggest thing. When you're confident back there, it can make up for a lot.
"Half of it in the NFL is the mental makeup. The best ones -- mentally they're strong, the team responds to them, they take blame. There's a sense of accountability. That's hard to find on tape."
That turns it back to Carr. The former No. 1 overall pick (and seemingly perfect prospect) of expansion Houston just wanted to take a breath, to step away from the beating and the pressure. Having to play when Delhomme's elbow exploded ruined that plan and left him shaken, with a team unwilling to put him in front of home fans because they don't want him booed off the field -- again.
"He got beat up," Delhomme said with a shake of his head. "I was never in his shoes to play and get beat up. It's a funny thing. You just don't know what it does to someone to get hit that much."
Testaverde almost knows. He had to start four games for horrible Tampa Bay in 1987. He emerged and sits in the top 10 of most of the significant passing records, but it wasn't easy.
"I don't know if I'd say trapped, but sometimes the expectations are higher than they should be," he said of the pressure associated by being viewed a franchise savior. "It's not because of the quarterback, but because of where the team is. Usually you expect one guy to come in and save the team and that's not the way it is.
"It takes more than that. It's a little unfair to the quarterback, but as time goes on and you build the team, he can become the kind of player you want."
To steal Delhomme's word, it's funny how it works out sometimes.
Johnson laughed recalling his start. The only quarterback behind Romo, he knows that in the current climate, his career might have never gotten off the ground.
Minnesota had to keep four quarterbacks in 1993 to have room for the rookie from Florida State, sticking him behind luminaries Jim McMahon, Sean Salisbury and Gino Torretta.
Johnson also had the good fortune of staying in the Vikings' system for his first seven years, which enabled him to gain a sense of comfort.
"It takes an organization that has vision to draft one and wait, it takes a lot of nerve to be patient," Johnson said. "Teams are keeping two now, and if we didn't keep four in Minnesota, I'd be out of the league, no question."
That's coming from a guy who's logged 16 years, more than 28,000 passing yards and a Super Bowl ring, earned with the Buccaneers in 2002. But he knows that without a few lucky breaks, or dumb luck and perfect timing, none of it would have happened.
These days, scenarios like Johnson's are as outdated as the wing-T.
"You get a good backup now," Rhome said, "and he's going to take off in free agency to start somewhere else, because there aren't enough of them."
No team proves that better than the Panthers.
WANT TO WATCH?
• What: Cowboys vs. Panthers
• When: 8 p.m.
• TV: Game will be televised on NFL Network, but those in the Comporium viewing area can watch the game on WCNC, cable channel 6 in Rock Hill