CHARLOTTE -- Carolina Panthers quarterback Brett Basanez is trying not to think about the pressure involved in Thursday's preseason finale at Pittsburgh.
And hey, why should he? It's only his career in Charlotte.
The third-year third-stringer will get a significant chance to play against the Steelers, after watching the last two games. All that's riding on his performance is whether he can convince the Panthers to continue grooming him, or whether he's one of the guys who falls victim to the roster crunch expected by their decision to keep an extra player at another position.
"I don't know," Basanez said, searching for the right words. "I just want to go out and play. I've been biting at the bit in Philly, biting at the bit here last week. I just want to go out and play, to do what I love to do, manage the game, lead the offense and score some points.
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"I don't think as a player you should put too much pressure on yourself. Let them make the decisions they're going to make, and control what you can control."
Not much has been in the 25-year-old's control. He impressed as an undrafted rookie in 2006, but they still cut him and stashed him on the practice squad. Last year, when things were shaping up for him to be the third QB, he suffered a wrist injury against New England in the third preseason game and spent the year on injured reserve.
So for his pro career, he's played five games, thrown 61 passes, a touchdown and three interceptions. It's not much to look at, but it's all he's got. He's still eligible to be placed on the practice squad, and there's a chance that might happen.
The life of such fringe players are often filled with and defined by happenstance. If Basanez was healthy last year, they might never have claimed Matt Moore off waivers from Dallas. If Moore hadn't played well enough late, he wouldn't be hogging all the developmental reps this preseason, forcing Basanez to watch. And if something unrelated like John Kasay struggling on kickoffs hadn't happened, all of this might be a moot discussion, since keeping a third quarterback instead of a second kicker would seem a sensible stance.
"We're not really pretty set on anything," coach John Fox said when asked if he was set on keeping three passers on the active roster.
So while his odds of hanging around improved Monday when they cut the only other guy competing for the third spot (Lester Ricard), that spot's far from guaranteed, which leaves Basanez trying to prove he belongs.
"You feel bad when you lose someone, but it's something that has to happen," Basanez said. "And you just have to make the most of your opportunity. We had no idea about that. Lester had no idea about that. You come in the morning and find out they've released you. It really makes you say wow. It brings you back down and let's you know that you never know when your last day is.
"So really, you get your butt out here, work a little bit and do what you can."
For Basanez, that includes pretty much anything.
He's among the first players to volunteer for scout team duty, willing to play safety against the first defense if that's what they need. He's usually the first guy on the field and the last one off, willing to throw extra to help guys who've been out with injuries or who are new. He's always asking questions, always working to get better, to take advantage of whatever opportunity he gets. He hung on every word Vinny Testaverde offered last year, and he attached himself to starter Jake Delhomme last year as they both rehabilitated from throwing-arm injuries.
It's hard to tell what he's capable of because chances have been scarce (just seven attempts this preseason), but it's clear he's smart enough to handle the job.
"Just knowledge," he replied when asked what he's better at now than a year ago. "And the thing I need to keep reminding myself is with knowledge comes simplicity. That's something that Vinny really hammered in and Jake's been hammering into me this year so far.
"You may know the playbook, but you need to know when to keep it simple. You need to know when to throw the hitch. Even if you think something might be there on the other side, throw the hitch, move the chains. That's the biggest thing I need to work on, is keep learning, keep it simple and keep moving the chains."
Delhomme has been impressed with Basanez, and has told his protégé not to put too much on himself. As to his progress, Delhomme laughed and said: "He's light years ahead of where I was my third year."
Of course, the Northwestern graduate (he has a master's degree in communication) knows that might not matter, and that the best performance against the Steelers might not secure his spot. That's why Thursday means so much. His preference is to force the Panthers to keep him, but the cold reality is that he's also auditioning for 31 other teams, making the film he creates against the Steelers a resumé.
It's an ugly word to use, but Basanez understands that mercenary is really the best way to describe it.
"It's kind of sad in a way," he said. "This is my third year here, I feel like a Panther, I feel like part of the family. I love the people here. My wife and I moved here.
"So it's kind of sad to think about getting good film because if it's not here it's somewhere else. I want it to be here. You want to get good film because you want to stay here. But obviously, the business side of the NFL is not like that. That's what it's come to be and that's what it is.
"It's a business. It's all about business. It's sad, but that's the way it is."