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 CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) -As the Carolina Panthers began another week of quarterback uncertainty Wednesday, the man whose elbow injury started the whole mess walked into the locker room.
``Look, it's Jake Delhomme!'' receiver Steve Smith mockingly yelled.
Delhomme, dressed in jeans and sneakers as his teammates took off their practice gear, has been a reluctant observer of the Panthers' dreadful season. He suffered ligament damage in his right elbow in Week 3, underwent reconstructive surgery a month later, and is hoping to return by the start of the 2008 training camp.
Delhomme's injury has left the Panthers (4-7) in disarray. They've since used three quarterbacks, have lost five straight games and are hoping 44-year-old Vinny Testaverde will be healthy enough to start Sunday against San Francisco.
``I wish I could be out there with my guys,'' said Delhomme, who had eight touchdown passes and one interception before getting hurt. ``That is how I feel. That's what hurts more than anything because these are my guys.''
Testaverde returned to practice Wednesday, his balky back improved after he missed Sunday's 31-6 loss to New Orleans. Coach John Fox repeated that Testaverde would start, if healthy, over David Carr, who had a passer rating of 20.1 against the Saints.
Fox declined to say who would be the No. 2 quarterback. Carr's performance Sunday led fans to chant ``We want Moore,'' referencing undrafted rookie Matt Moore. He eventually replaced Carr after his second interception early in the fourth quarter. Moore completed eight of 14 passes for 66 yards and an interception.
``Last week was tough with the chants. I've been on the other side of that when I was in New Orleans,'' said Delhomme, a former backup with the Saints. ``It's hard because you're trying to get a win. But that's the contract we signed when we were young to play quarterback.''
Delhomme's schedule now includes arriving at the stadium early each day with the other players on injured reserve. He receives treatment designed to get the range of motion back in his arm.
But the rehab is slow. The latest milestone was Delhomme being able to open a jar and turn a door handle. He won't even begin to throw until mid-February - and he'll start with a Nerf ball.
``It's very boring. It's football season and I'm not doing it,'' Delhomme said. ``I look forward to getting up and arguing with Terrence Melton and Brett Basanez in the training room. That's the highlight of my day. That's where it is.''
Delhomme has had plenty of time to see the Panthers' struggles unfold, which has led to uncertainty about the futures of coach John Fox and general manager Marty Hurney. Delhomme remains firmly in Fox's corner.
``I think John has a proven record and he's done OK here,'' Delhomme said. ``As players too, we're not getting it done. But certainly I know what John can do and I believe in him 100 percent.''
Yet Delhomme also knows if Carolina can't turn things around, things will look a lot different next season.
``But to me you look at the big picture,'' Delhomme said. ``Green Bay was 4-8 team last year and they won their last four games and then don't have too many different guys this year than last year. You have to go through tough times and hopefully we will get it turned around.''
Delhomme provided few answers for what the Panthers could do to improve offensively. They were 2-1 and averaged 25 points per game with Delhomme as the starter. They're 2-6 and averaging 12.3 points per game since he was sidelined.
``We're close. Some of the plays are there and close,'' Delhomme said. ``We were close against Atlanta, but we didn't get it done.''
Delhomme will be on the sideline Sunday when the Panthers try to end a seven-game home losing streak, likely biting his lip.
``You want to feel a part of it. Yeah, I'm a part but I'm not helping,'' Delhomme said. ``You try to help mentally, but you want to be able to help. That's the toughest part for me, that competition void I have.''
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