CHARLOTTE -- The first big completion of the Carolina Panthers' 2008 season fell softly into the hands of trainer Ryan Vermillion last Monday morning. Call it a 10-yard out. With a blue-and-green Nerf ball.
"We're high-tech here in the training room," Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme said with a laugh of his first offering. "It looks like something your kids play with at the beach."
That he's throwing anything at all is the good news, after undergoing Tommy John surgery on his right elbow last fall. Last week's lobs were his first since the Oct. 18 procedure to rebuild his ulnar collateral ligament -- during which team orthopedist Dr. Pat Connor also removed a bone spur from behind his elbow and repaired a small muscle tear in his throwing arm.
He got in four sessions last week, at the end of his 90-minute rehab sessions with Vermillion and the rest of the training staff.
They put him through a different set of exercises each day -- mostly core strengthening, with light weights and therapy exercises -- but the payoff comes just before he leaves. He gets to do what he's paid to do again. Twenty throws a day, indoors, with a fake ball and not much behind it.
The throws have to be soft; they're not going to take any chances, not now. And they're not as many of them as Delhomme would like. But that's all part of the plan, too. He'd love to press the issue, throw more, but there's far too much at stake to get impulsive now.
"Certainly I'd like to do more, ... I'd like to do a whole lot more," Delhomme said. "But they've got me on a pretty tight pitch count. We're being smart about this like we have through the whole process."
Delhomme said he won't throw a real leather football until March, and that will still be in the training room. It'll be longer still before he goes outside. He's tracking a few months behind fellow quarterback Brett Basanez, whose recovery from wrist surgery has gotten to the point he's moved outdoors.
For the Panthers' starter, the goal remains being ready for the start of the regular season. All indications thus far is he's on pace to do so, without the pain that previously plagued him pre-surgery.
"So far, the progress has been extremely smooth," Delhomme said. "We're very happy with where we are right now."