All signs point to Moore replacing hurt Delhomme as Panthers' QB

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Carolina Panthers were in full secrecy mode Wednesday, with quarterback Jake Delhomme hiding his injured hand in his pocket and coach John Fox talking in circles.

Despite the obstacles, it was hard to ignore the hints that the Panthers will have a new quarterback in Sunday's game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

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Matt Moore practiced with Carolina's first-team offense -- albeit in a cramped indoor facility because of heavy rain -- while an idle Delhomme had his throwing hand wrapped and his index and middle fingers taped together.

Delhomme had been able to keep his job despite a career-high 18 interceptions in 11 games, but his broken finger might finally sideline him and give the untested Moore a chance to snap the Panthers (4-7) out of their offensive funk.

Saying he'd be "hard-pressed to grip a football right now," Delhomme wouldn't rule himself out of Sunday's game as he kept his hand hidden in his pocket to attempt to shield whether the index or middle finger is broken. Fox stuck to his "day-to-day" mantra, but Moore and his teammates were preparing for his first start since 2007.

"I think this is a great opportunity for Matt," wide receiver Muhsin Muhammad said. "Obviously, we won't do a lot of the things that Jake does well, but we'll do the things that Matt does well."

Delhomme has done little well in the worst season of his 11-year NFL career. He threw four more interceptions in last Sunday's 17-6 loss to the New York Jets, the last coming after he banged hands with linebacker Calvin Pace on a fourth-down completion. Delhomme said his finger bent toward his pinkie.

Fox said the Panthers haven't discussed placing Delhomme on season-ending injured reserve, but all signs point toward Moore making the start against the Bucs (1-10).

For many, it will be several weeks too late. Moore has become a fan favorite with Delhomme struggling -- even as Moore struggles to prove to the Panthers' coaching staff that he's a good decision maker.

"I'm sure there is," Moore replied when asked if he had some persuading to do.

Moore started the season as the third-string quarterback behind Josh McCown but saw action in Week 1 against the Philadelphia Eagles after Delhomme was yanked following four interceptions and a lost fumble and McCown hurt his knee and ankle.

McCown was placed on injured reserve days later, and Moore moved ahead of newly signed journeyman A.J. Feeley as Carolina's No. 2 quarterback. But Fox resisted using Moore despite Delhomme's struggles. Moore has played in only one other game when Delhomme was briefly shaken up, completing 6 of 12 passes for 63 yards and an interception on the season.

"I guess I'm a puppet," Moore said. "If they want to use me, they'll use me. If not, I can't do anything about it. The only thing I can do is be ready."

The 6-foot-3 Moore also claims that he's better than he was when he started three games at the end of the 2007 season as an undrafted rookie from Oregon State. Moore was claimed off waivers after spending training camp with the Dallas Cowboys and was expected to spend the season watching.

Instead Delhomme suffered an elbow injury, David Carr was bad, then was hurt, and ancient Vinny Testaverde was hurt, too. Moore, given a limited playbook and showing a lively arm, went 2-1 in closing a 7-9 season.

"In '07, everything was real quick for me," Moore said. "My first read, if that wasn't there, I'd go to my second read and get the ball out, whether that be throw it way or hitting somebody.

"I think now I've kind of developed and learned in most instances you have some time. Work through, find your running back, go to your fourth read, things like that. Whereas earlier, it was not a panic, but wanting to get the ball out quick."

The Panthers normally would try to take pressure off Moore by turning to their running game, but that could be an issue Sunday. Running backs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart and fullback Brad Hoover all missed practice Wednesday. While Stewart normally has taken a day off each week to rest his sore Achilles' tendon, Williams and Hoover suffered ankle injuries against the Jets.

Backup wide receiver Dwayne Jarrett (ankle) also sat out, not that it would have mattered much for Moore. His first practice with the starting unit came on a 72-yard-long, 32-yard-wide indoor field with a low ceiling. No deep passes in this workout.

"I wish we were outside just to get some timing down and some proper depths and things like that which we can't do indoors," Moore said. "But just getting out there, moving around, working with the guys, things like that were good.

"If Jake steps out and I step in, it should look the exact same. That's what I'm shooting for."

Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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