Patient Weinke ready to pounce

Finally a pro at age 28, he joins Panthers as their oldest passer

NFL Draft

April 23, 2001|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

Heisman Trophy winner Chris Weinke waited an extra year to join the NFL, and then he waited an extra day to get drafted.

Weinke's vigil ended yesterday, 11 picks into the fourth round of the NFL draft, when the Florida State quarterback was chosen by the Carolina Panthers.

He will walk right into a quarterback competition that is wide-open. In fact, because he will be the oldest quarterback on the roster, he might have certain advantages over Jeff Lewis, penciled in as the starter, and Dameyune Craig.

"I'm as prepared as any quarterback in this draft to make the adjustments we need to make at this level," said Weinke, who will turn 29 in July. "Because of my age and maturity, my learning curve is a little bit smaller than maybe a 20- or 21-year-old kid. My job will be to come in and study and learn the offense and try to help this team win."

Weinke's was a curious odyssey that led him to the NFL. After getting recruited to Florida State in 1990, he spent six years playing minor-league baseball in the Toronto Blue Jays' system.

In 1997, he abandoned baseball and returned to Florida State, where he met with great success. In 1999, he threw for 25 touchdown passes and led the Seminoles to the national championship.

After deciding against coming out early for the NFL draft a year ago, he threw for 4,167 yards and 33 touchdowns last season, and won the Heisman Trophy. Again, he took the Seminoles to the national title game, but lost this time to Oklahoma.

The year's wait did not improve his draft standing as much as he had hoped. But his opportunity in Carolina may come sooner than he expected.

Panthers coach George Seifert said yesterday that he will go into training camp with Lewis as the starter, though the four-year veteran has never started a game. Steve Beuerlein, the Panthers' starter the past three seasons, was waived in March because of salary-cap implications.

"We know that it's a competitive situation," Seifert said, "and we'll just take it from there, and that's the way it should be. As far as the quarterbacks that are here now, and the situation of having this highly publicized player coming in, they can't be distracted by that."

Weinke made a favorable impression on Seifert at the scouting combine in Indianapolis in February with his accuracy, heretofore a concern of NFL scouting personnel.

"I think that the man has some skills and we'd like to see him help this football team," Seifert said. "But to what degree remains to be seen.

"He has certain leadership strengths and a maturity to understand the intricacies of the game. He's a pretty good-sized fellow and his movement, though not a runner, his movement within the pocket is not bad."

His age and baseball background even give Weinke a leg up in the competition.

"I would say that there is some of that to his advantage in having been involved with a professional organization prior to his collegiate quarterbacking career," Seifert said.

The extra year at Florida State prepared Weinke for the transition to the NFL.

"I feel I did the things necessary to be successful at this level," he said.

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