Rookie QB Weinke in no hurry to be Panthers' starter
By Don Banks, Sports Illustrated
SPARTANBURG, S.C. -- For Chris Weinke, it's the same old story.
The oldest Heisman Trophy winner in history is now the oldest of four quarterbacks in the Carolina Panthers training camp. When was the last time a rookie could say that?
"Of course I want to be the starter, but it's not a case of this urgency to play right now," Weinke said Thursday, after the Panthers’ first full-squad workout at Wofford College. "Physically, my body is in the shape of a 22- or 23-year-old. I may be about to turn 29, but I wasn't playing football for about seven years or so.
"I don't feel like the oldest quarterback on the team. I feel like I can have a long career here. But I'm fourth on the depth chart and I'm there for a reason. That's where I belong right now."
Weinke, who played six seasons of minor league baseball in the Toronto organization before his college football days at Florida State, is almost nine months older than the presumed Panthers starter, Jeff Lewis. Dameyune Craig, 27, and Matt Lytle, 25, round out Carolina's quarterback kiddie corps. None have ever started an NFL game.
In truth, Weinke is already viewed as the team's No. 2 quarterback, with more than a fair shot at challenging Lewis should their preseason performances head in opposite directions. While Panthers head coach George Seifert has essentially said it's Lewis' job to lose, he has done nothing to rule Weinke out of the equation.
"As far as Weinke being the starter, a number of other fellows would have to fail and then he has to look awfully good himself," Seifert said this week. "I mean, there are a number of things that go into it. Ultimately, I guess you'd say he'd have to be the best guy. There's a long ways to go. Right now, we're just kind of getting started with this."
Weinke has looked solid enough in the early days of Carolina's camp -- rookies reported July 22 -- showing a better touch on the deep ball than any of his three peers. But he is determined to not race through his development, even if he already has surfaced in Carolina as the people's choice to win the starting job.
"It's too early to tell anything, but obviously they've got confidence in Jeff," he said. "Jeff knows this offense and has been in it. I've never taken a snap in the NFL."
Still, the quarterback-barren Panthers are the perfect fit for Weinke’s unique story. Where else could he have landed that would have better transformed the disadvantage of his age into a positive? Weinke doesn't have a lot of time to waste in his career, and the Panthers conviently don't have a ton of time invested in any one quarterback.
"I don't know if I could have been more excited than when Carolina drafted me," Weinke said. "As a 28-year-old quarterback going in, to have an opportunity is all you can ask."
Actually, Weinke asked for a little more than that. His five-year contract called for a signing bonus of just $500,000 and minimum base salaries in each of the first three years. But it is packed with incentives that eventually could earn him as much as $20 million if he plays right away and produces as the team's starting quarterback.
That's a payoff the Panthers would love to make.