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Panthers' Leader Is Old Hand

Football: Carolina names Peete to replace Weinke as its quarterback for opener; he hasn't thrown a regular-season pass since 1999.

September 04, 2002|SAM FARMER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

He was supposed to be a tutor, a confidant, a behind-the-scenes sounding board for a young quarterback on the rise.

Instead--suddenly--the ball is in Rodney Peete's hands.

Peete, 36, the former USC star and a 14-year NFL veteran, has been named Carolina's starting quarterback for the Panthers' opener Sunday against Baltimore. He replaces Chris Weinke, a second-year player who is still working on the finer points of a new offense.

The Panthers are the sixth team for Peete, who was Oakland's third-string quarterback the past two seasons and before that played for Detroit, Dallas, Philadelphia and Washington. He hasn't thrown a pass in more than two seasons and last started a game in 1998.

"When he left here he wasn't sure what he was going to do," said his older brother, Skip, running back coach for the Raiders. "He was talking about retiring. I had mixed feelings about it. I knew if he was in the right situation at the right time, it would eventually come his way."

Even though he has made a career of being at the ready at all times, Rodney Peete said he was "surprised" when coaches informed him of the move a day earlier. Make that surprised and delighted.

"You play this game to play," he said.

Neither he nor Weinke was particularly sharp this summer. In four exhibition games, Weinke completed 59.3% of his passes (35 of 59) for 270 yards with one touchdown and four interceptions. His most recent game was his worst, a sloppy showing against Cleveland last Friday when he completed one of three passes for three yards with an interception returned 47 yards for a touchdown.

Peete missed much of training camp, first because of a strained left knee, and later because of the death of his father-in-law and the birth of his third child. He is married to actress Holly Robinson Peete.

In two quarters this summer, Peete completed nine of 19 passes for 68 yards with no touchdowns and no interceptions. The Panthers signed him as a backup because he is a mature, even-keeled veteran who doesn't require a lot of reps in practice to pick up an offense. They could have grabbed a starting-caliber quarterback, say Jeff George, but clearly wanted someone who would not be threatening to Weinke.

"I feel like I've got enough experience, and once you get in there for one snap, you feel like you've been in there the whole time," he said. "Yes, I would have liked to have been totally healthy during training camp, and, yes, I would have liked to have gotten more snaps in the preseason. But it didn't work out that way. I've got to deal with the situation as it is."

Switching quarterbacks at such a late date is familiar ground for the Panthers, who made then-rookie Weinke the starter 10 days before last season even though Jeff Lewis started the first three exhibition games. Weinke made his debut with a victory at Minnesota, throwing for one touchdown and running for another, then faded as Carolina lost its next 15 games.

Before playing football at Florida State, where he won the Heisman Trophy in 2000, Weinke, 30, spent six seasons in the Toronto Blue Jay organization. (Peete has a connection to the Blue Jays too: the organization selected him in the 30th round of the 1984 free-agent draft, but he did not sign.) Weinke's claim to fame in baseball is he was playing first base for a double-A team in Knoxville, Tenn., when Michael Jordan got his first professional hit.

Although Weinke rushed for six touchdowns last season, more than any other NFL quarterback, his passer rating (62.0) was the league's second-lowest. It didn't help inspire confidence that he missed a mini-camp and June workouts recovering from shoulder surgery. On top of that, he was trying to absorb his third offense in three years.

Carolina Coach John Fox, a defensive specialist who replaced fired George Seifert, has entrusted the Panther offense to Dan Henning, who has coached dozens of quarterbacks in his 24-year NFL career, including Joe Theismann and Doug Williams during Washington's Super Bowl years, and Vinny Testaverde when the Jets advanced to the AFC championship game in 1998.

Henning coached Peete in Detroit and appears more comfortable with Peete's grasp of the offense than with Weinke's. Normally chatty, Henning has declined to speak with reporters about the quarterback change, allowing Fox to do the talking.

"We just haven't produced," Fox said. "I just didn't see the spunk and the spark in the offense that I know we need to have to win."

Fox went on to say the decision "is not an indictment of Chris Weinke" and that Weinke "is the quarterback of the future."

All that was little consolation to Weinke, who was informed Sunday of the switch.

"It's tough to swallow when you don't know it's coming," he said. "I didn't know it was coming. I didn't foresee this. I had no idea."

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Back at the Helm

*--* Back at the Helm Former USC quarte rback Rodney Peete was named the starte r for the Caroli na Panthe rs. A look at his NFL career , enteri ng his 14th season : Year Team G GS Att Comp Pct Yds TD Int Rate 1989 Detroit 8 8 195 103 52.8 1479 5 9 67.0 1990 Detroit 11 11 271 142 52.4 1974 13 8 79.8 1991 Detroit 8 8 194 116 59.8 1339 5 9 69.9 1992 Detroit 10 10 213 123 57.7 1702 9 9 80.0 1993 Detroit 10 10 252 157 62.3 1670 6 14 66.4 1994 Dallas 7 1 56 33 58.9 470 4 1 102.5 1995 Philadelphia 15 12 375 215 57.3 2326 8 14 67.3 1996 Philadelphia 5 5 134 80 59.7 992 3 5 74.6 1997 Philadelphia 5 3 118 68 57.6 869 4 4 78.0 1998 Philadelphia 5 4 129 71 55.0 758 2 4 64.7 1999 Washington 3 0 17 8 47.1 107 2 1 82.2 2000 Oakland 0 0 0 0 0.0 0 0 0 0.0 2001 Oakland 1 0 0 0 0.0 0 0 0 0.0 TOTAL 88 72 1954 1116 57.1 13686 61 78 72.6

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