CHARLOTTE -- Maybe it was because he didn't know enough to know better, but when Matt Moore walked in the door nine months ago, he walked in unafraid.
Now that he actually knows a thing or two, the Carolina Panthers are able to proceed the same way.
The current backup -- who got his start mopping up one of the most mixed-up seasons in history -- is finally getting a chance to settle in here, and as crazy as it sounds, the Panthers are counting on him.
"It's big-time," Moore said with a nod and a cock-eyed grin last week when asked about the chance at increased practice repetitions with Jake Delhomme mending. "It's been nice getting the more reps and the more experience."
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Moore never had that luxury last year, joining the Panthers in September as a waiver claim after Dallas gambled and lost by cutting him. The Cowboys were going to resign him to the practice squad when he cleared (since they were carrying just two passers), but the first of the rash of injuries got Moore his start in Charlotte, which ended up with a starting job. The Panthers had the opening since Brett Basanez went down in the preseason, but they felt good going in with Delhomme and David Carr, so they figured they'd give Moore a chance to sit and learn.
That lasted exactly five games, when he had to relieve Carr in New Orleans, when the failed backup got twisted like a pretzel. That his first pass was a 43-yard strike to gone-and-forgotten Keary Colbert of all people seemed to sum up his rookie year, as much as the fact it was Week 16 before his first touchdown, or the two wins he authored down the stretch.
"I'd say the first time he stepped in a game down in New Orleans, you could tell he just wasn't scared," Panthers fullback Brad Hoover said. "That's the thing. You step into a very hostile environment and he wasn't rattled. I've seen him make mistakes and he wasn't rattled, and you don't get that in a lot of quarterbacks, especially young quarterbacks.
"You see it in him, there's a lot of promise."
That's why the Panthers never blinked, or budged in their feelings for Moore. In case you missed the offseason, you'd be astonished to learn they didn't sign a free agent, or didn't trade up in the draft to take a franchise passer. Partly, it's because they've got a hunch they've got something worth working with in Moore. And with Delhomme on a pitch count through the spring and summer as he recovers from elbow surgery, Moore's taking advantage of the extra work.
"It's going to be part of what we feel is a talented young guy's improvement," coach John Fox said of Moore's snaps with the starters during minicamp and organized team activities. "He got to start three games last year, for a rookie free agent quarterback in the National Football League, that doesn't happen a lot.
"It's all about experience with quarterbacks, that's why they're so hard to develop."
Still, Moore shakes his head when asked about last year, knowing it took a bizarre confluence of circumstances for him to get here at all, much less play when a pair of No. 1 overall picks (including a near-twice-his-age Vinny Testaverde) broke down spiritually and physically.
He didn't look like much in relief, completing 14 of 32 passes for 166 yards and three picks (21.1 rating) in his first six appearances. But in those last three starts against playoff teams, he was a different guy, going 56-of-80 for 563 yards, three touchdowns and two picks (86.1 rating), but most importantly, winning a pair of them.
That allowed him to settle in, and catch his breath through an offseason.
"It's nice that I have a set schedule this year, it's just getting better that way," Moore said. "I can't tell you where I'd be without those three games, just knowing the little ins and outs, how it works, showing what I could do.
"It's just a confidence booster for me coming into this season."
For all the savvy he's shown on the field, Moore's still at a bit of a loss when asked to describe it -- far more comfortable in a huddle than scrum of reporters. The answers are short, and he grins politely through the clichés he's dispensing, still getting used to being looked to for answers. At the same time, those around him can see the growth where it's most important, on the field.
"Way better," Fox said of Moore now compared to a year ago. "He'd tell you the same thing. He's a lot more comfortable. Coming from one system to another system, everyone does basically the same things, but it's a different language. So you're burdened with that from the onset.
"It's tough on rookies coming into this league when they miss a week of camp, let alone not even in camp. And the quarterback's position's the most complex because you've got to know what everybody's doing. So you're behind the whole year. I'm sure he's feeling way more comfortable. He looks more comfortable the second time around."
As with so many things, it's the fine points of the game that are the last to arrive. He walked in the door able to throw with authority -- Testaverde was probably the only one here last year with a stronger arm. And he showed that off often, even if it was misguided at times.
The bomb to Colbert was nice, but it took Moore eight games to find one of his own teammates in the end zone. But the way he played late earned him some trust, both from management and the guys with whom he shares a locker room.
The 23-year-old Moore aw-shucksed it again when asked about the team's confidence in him, pointing to the lack of imported talent at his position.
"I guess, yeah, it says something; Coach Fox and Mr. Hurney (Marty, the Panthers general manager) are saying they're confident by their actions, not going out and getting another one," Moore said. "So I've got to kind of prove that I can do the job and just go from there."
As he did last year, he's showing them something now.
Hoover said he can see the growth this spring, that Moore has a more assured bearing in the huddle, is more at ease with himself in front of them.
And as Moore's learning, that's reciprocal, as the guys around him are feeling the same way.
"Nothing crazy, just a little bit," he said of the different reception he's getting from teammates this spring. "Just me playing last year, not only proving to myself that I can play, but to other guys; that I'm not just going to go out there, I'm going to know what I'm doing.
"I see more confidence in me from them. Just when I step in the huddle. It's nice to know they're not worried or anything like that."