Team hopes Moore's strong 2009 a sign of things to come

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- One list has Carolina's Matt Moore the second-worst starting quarterback in the NFL, better than only the guy he replaced. The popular sentiment is it's just a matter of time until he loses his job to rookie wunderkind Jimmy Clausen.

If it bothers the undrafted Californian who switched colleges and nearly played professional baseball, it's hard to tell behind the laid-back persona that's helped him win games and the confidence of his teammates.

"It's kind of hard not to give a nod to that guy," Panthers receiver Steve Smith said. "I think he deserves it."

Added running back DeAngelo Williams: "He's definitely taken hold of the leadership role."

The support in the locker room contrasts with the outside opinion of Moore.'s recent quarterback rankings had Moore 32nd, better only than Cleveland's Jake Delhomme, who was released by Carolina after throwing 18 interceptions last season.

That has to bother Moore, right? He was 4-1 as a starter to close last season, with eight touchdown passes and just one pick.

"There's only one place to go, and that's up," Moore said, smiling.

What about all the attention Clausen gets? Predictions of Moore's demise began minutes after the Panthers drafted the former Notre Dame star.

"Of course that stuff is going to come up, especially with a guy like Jimmy. A big, high-profile guy, a good player," Moore said. "I can't worry about stuff like that."

Not that Moore doesn't realize he's about to do something he's never done.

Moore went 2-1 as an NFL starter as a rookie in 2007, but it was after Carolina was out of playoff race. After going 23 months between starts, he got a shot again last year, but after the Panthers started 4-7.

"Literally, there was no pressure. I came in and it really didn't matter what I did," Moore said. "But I think that's the way I want to approach the season. You can't feel the pressure, you can't. Is there? Yeah, naturally, these games count."

The Panthers are eager to see how he responds in Sunday's opener at the New York Giants.

Not only is it the first regular season game in their $1.6 billion stadium, the Giants are seeking revenge after Moore threw a career-best three touchdown passes in Carolina's 41-9 rout last season.

"The experience from last year and the wins we had late in the season, those are definitely huge things for me, personally," Moore said.

Still, will it be enough to hold off Clausen? Moore's pedigree certainly can't compare to Clausen's despite growing up minutes from each other in Southern California. Clausen came from a family of quarterbacks and was a top high school recruit. Moore wasn't even sure if football was his sport.

Moore played behind former Stanford quarterback Kyle Matter in high school and didn't start until his senior year. Then he couldn't beat out Drew Olson for the starting job at UCLA and quit school.

He thought about playing baseball after he was drafted by the Los Angeles Angels in the 22nd round of the 2004 draft, but eventually chose football and Oregon State. He had a successful two seasons, but 27 interceptions kept him from getting drafted.

The Panthers wanted to sign him as a rookie free agent, but he chose Dallas because the Cowboys had only two quarterbacks and "they were the Cowboys. It seemed like an easy choice for me at the time."

After Dallas waived him, he signed with Carolina. And while he played as a rookie, it came only because of injuries to three quarterbacks ahead of him. The Panthers even coaxed 44-year-old Vinny Testaverde out of retirement before turning to Moore.

"Everybody's path is different," Moore said. "The one I took might have been longer, strange to some people, but I'm here now."

But how will he fare? He looked sluggish and was inaccurate in the preseason, failing to lead Carolina to an offensive touchdown and posting a passer rating of just 56.1. But despite the lack of scoring, Moore won points with his teammates by unveiling a side he rarely shows in public.

"He's definitely not the quiet type that you see walking around here sometimes. He's actually vocal and stuff," Williams said. "Whenever anybody's talking in the huddle it's, 'Quiet in my huddle.'"

It's the kind of leadership the NFL's youngest team desperately needs. The Panthers are confident Moore is their guy, even if that's not a popular opinion.

"I'd be disappointed in Matt if he paid much attention to what the outside says," coach John Fox said. "I feel very confident that he'll be just fine."

Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press

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