SPARTANBURG, S.C. -- The way Steve Beuerlein sees it, there's a good reason the Carolina Panthers won't have a quarterback controversy this year: He's determined to prevent it from happening.
The Panthers used the offseason to tell Kerry Collins, the franchise's first-ever draft choice, that they were less than pleased with his development.
The team's refusal to pay Collins a $6 million bonus seemed to open the door for Beuerlein, who is heading into his third season as the team's No. 2 quarterback, to try to wrest away the starter's job for 1998.
But instead of waging a public campaign to become the starter, Beuerlein has quietly gone about his business at training camp, working with the second unit and keeping a low profile.
"I think my role is the same," he said. "I'll be ready to play whenever they ask me to play, but until that time, I'm Kerry's biggest fan."
Collins appreciates the support as he tries to bounce back from his worst season in three years as a pro.
"It's very comforting for me knowing that a guy could come in and very easily say, `I should be starting and I should be the guy,' but Steve's never been like that," he said. "He's always understood his role. And that helped not create a lot of tension that very easily could have been created."
Collins suffered a broken jaw during the exhibition season last year, when he also was accused of partying too much and directing a racial epithet at a teammate.
His troubles carried over into the regular season, which ended with him leading the NFL in interceptions and having the lowest rating among the league's quarterbacks. The Panthers, 13-5 and NFC West champions in 1996, fell to 7-9 last year.
Instead of paying Collins the bonus in the offseason and extending his contract for three more years, the Panthers elected to let him play in 1998 as a restricted free agent and become an unrestricted free agent after the year.
But Beuerlein, 33 and heading into his 12th NFL season, didn't take Collins' problems as a signal to try to upgrade his status.
"I don't think that's my role here," he said. "If I'm playing, that means that either Kerry's hurt or something's not going right, and none of us want that. Of course, I want to play. But I wasn't brought here to compete with him for a starting job. I was brought here to help him and be there if something were to happen to him. And that situation doesn't change -- in my opinion -- because of what's happened to him in the offseason."
Coach Dom Capers offered a similar sentiment about Beuerlein, who has played in 13 games for the Panthers, completing 57 percent of his passes and throwing for 14 touchdowns. He has been intercepted five times.
"When we first talked to Steve about coming in, we were very clear in terms of what we felt his role would be, and Steve understood that," Capers said. "Over the last couple years, Steve has done an outstanding job of being ready, going in and playing well for us and being a team guy. I think he's as unselfish a guy as there comes. Steve's always been ready to do whatever would be best for the team."
Notes: Tuesday marked the 12th day of the holdout by first-round draft pick Jason Peter. ... Defensive end Sean Gilbert left Tuesday's lone practice with a twisted left ankle. Capers said it was uncertain whether the injury would prevent Gilbert from playing in Saturday's exhibition opener against Jacksonville. ... Wide receiver Muhsin Muhammad returned to Charlotte for medical tests after complaining of stomach cramps.
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