Carolina Panthers

David, throw the ball

CHARLOTTE -- David Carr still has a very good chance to make something of his career, with the Carolina Panthers and in general.

But if he's going to, he might have to start taking a few more chances -- and that begs the question whether he's willing or able.

There's a possibility the damage done to the talented young quarterback during five expansion years in Houston might have affected him substantially, made him just gun-shy enough that he's slow to pull the trigger on any passes that aren't sure things.

The whiplash of going from the anointed one to the whipping boy might do that to a man.

Or maybe he's just a little too polished, a little too smart to bend the rules when they might need to be bent.

Carr was asked if he was hesitant to force throws into tight spaces in an effort to get the ball to wide receiver Steve Smith more often -- the kind of spark the Panthers' offense clearly needs.

"Definitely," he replied. "That's one of the things you have to guard against as a quarterback. There were probably some times I could have thrown it into him, but who knows what happens. Or you can throw to the open guy in front of you, gain 10 yards and go onto the next play.

"If that's what they're going to give you, that's what you've got to take. You can't get locked into making sure you get him the ball all the time -- although he is our best player. The defense knows that, too, and they're going to make sure they do everything to take him away."

That's where Carr's different from the guy he's replacing (remember, the one many of you wanted him to replace, period).

Jake Delhomme has that easy on-field rapport with Smith, knows him well, and has from the moment they met. Take away that their backgrounds are opposite (the streets of South Central L.A. vs. the horse farms of rural La.), and they're pretty close to being the same guy.

They make you hold your breath. Their careers are played on the end of a rubber band, pulled taut and about to snap.

Something's going to happen. It's going to be exciting. It might be good.

That's where Carr's different, and it's perhaps unfair to him to expect anything but.

He came to the Panthers after being systematically built up, then beaten down in Houston, cast aside by his second coach after one year in favor of a career backup. You can imagine being hesitant to make mistakes for your new boss, knowing he'd probably like to recreate his new team in his own image, to win with the guy he picked rather than the one he inherited.

But at this level of football, hesitance is death, or at the very least, mediocrity.

The difference between fearless and foolish is a fine line. You can only walk it if you're sure of yourself, your teammates and secure in your future.

That's why Delhomme's been so good over the last four years, and the start of this one.

He's willing to offer one up from time to time, knowing that more often than not, if you lob a jump ball between Smith and any corner in the league, his guy's coming down with it.

It doesn't make textbook football sense. It makes people cringe when one goes bad. But it makes them jump when they go right, makes Smith happy and makes the Panthers win.

Chris Weinke never figured that out, and that's much of the reason he's gone. Classically trained, groomed to be a quarterback from a young age, he wasn't going to throw into double coverage, wasn't risking something going wrong. Better, as Carr said, to take the easy dump-off to Keary Colbert than to try to force something Smith's way and have it backfire.

But playing it safe's not going to get them where they need to go.

Carr's got all the talent in the world, and maybe more of the intangible stuff than people realize. Despite his funny throwing motion, he's technically smooth. Despite the white gloves and the haircut, he's tougher than folks realize, and won a lot of converts in the locker room by coming back onto the field in New Orleans after Will Smith turned his back into an origami snake.

But to keep them -- and he needs to hurry -- he's going to have to make some plays.

To hit, he's going to have to climb onto Smith's wavelength, get on the same page with his best player. Being conventional's not always the best way to do that, either.

Some time in the next couple of weeks, he's going to have to throw one Smith's way and hope.

But if he's not willing to risk a bad play to make a good one, his chances and the Panthers' might vanish.