CHARLOTTE -- All the other stuff he had done before. Wednesday, it became football again, and that was the relief for Jake Delhomme and all those around him.
The Carolina Panthers' quarterback took another significant step in his return from reconstructive elbow surgery by taking snaps with the first offense during the first day of their summer school practice.
He had already thrown footballs, foam and real, and taken snaps from his centers -- off the carpet in the locker room. He had been on the practice field with his teammates, throwing during individual drills.
But Wednesday was the first time he was back in the mix since Sept. 23, when he went down in Atlanta and took the Panthers' season with him.
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"A good first day; I was able to participate a little bit, so that was nice," Delhomme said with a grin. "You know, it's a start. It's a step in the right direction."
He's been taking small steps since having Tommy John surgery on Oct. 18. The rehab has been strenuous, the progress painstakingly slow. With time away, he's worked out so diligently that teammates have taken to teasing him that he's now an athlete.
Through the whole process, keeping the reins pulled back might be the toughest part, and the credit for that goes to the medical and training staff, headed by Ryan Vermillion.
"I hoped I would," Delhomme said when asked if he expected to be this close to a normal workload. "I felt I probably could have done some things in minicamp. In my mind, I thought I could have done everything in minicamp. But doctor's orders and Ryan's orders. So we're going to kind of progress as we go along.
"I think mentally, I was a little rusty, but that's to be expected. It was good to be out there in the huddle and actually competing again."
The signs of his progress were subtle but clear.
When asked about his workload at minicamp earlier this month, he was quick to say he had thrown precisely 34 passes. Wednesday, he shrugged.
"I think it was right around 40-ish, right around there," he replied.
The intangible boost might have been even easier to nail down.
"It was great to see," tight end Jeff King said. "He came in and threw it well. He got a little (upset) at himself, which is good. It's awesome to have your leader back under center. We haven't had that in quite some time with our guy who knows the system and everything about it."
Panthers coach John Fox echoed those sentiments, saying that from where things are, there's no reason to believe Delhomme won't be ready for full work at training camp, the original goal.
"It's great having your starting quarterback out there," said Fox, who came under fire after sending four guys under center last year. "He's not only just a good quarterback, but he's the leader of the offense and having him back out there, his enthusiasm, is a joy to watch for sure.
"It's contagious. It's different when it's not that guy in there than when he is in there. You see the results of that. It's been a long time and so it's nice to see again."
Delhomme said he's cleared most of the significant hurdles, and all that's really left is live contact. And with what he's been through, the idea of a player such as Atlanta defensive end John Abraham bearing down on him -- and twisting on his arm or some such -- isn't the daunting notion you'd think.
"In talking to Dr. (Pat) Connor, he said, 'Your elbow is stronger than it has been in years,' so that was always good to hear," Delhomme said. "So if he tells you that, then really I'm not too worried about a hit or whatnot. I don't think I will be thinking about that."
He also admitted the creeping nature of the problems that blew up last year -- the seasons of growing weakness in his throwing arm that left him taking off more days of camp, and needing more time to recover from heavy workloads. Between that and the mental break of not being beaten on each Sunday, the Panthers' leader has the old bounce back.
"I really do," he replied when asked if his arm felt stronger. "We cleaned up some things and I think over the last couple of years I might have changed what I threw a little bit. I think a lot had to do with my rehab routine, the working out. I have become more specialized, I guess you can say, in my lifts and whatnot. So that has strengthened up everything in the arm, the fingers and the shoulders.
"Warming up and feeling good, that is what is the refreshing deal for me. I'm excited to come out. I do enjoy practice. I love it. I always have. But it got to be kind of a grind the last few years. It was like, 'OK, let's try to get through it.' And that was not healthy."