As the Panthers continue evaluating their field of candidates to draft with the first overall pick, it's not yet clear where QB Jimmy Clausen fits in Carolina.
Head coach Ron Rivera has said his only promise to Clausen, a second-round pick in last year's draft, is a chance to compete, and it may be against whoever the Panthers choose first overall, as Auburn's Cam Newton and Missouri's Blaine Gabbert are believed to be under consideration.
OLT Jordan Gross, a three-time Pro Bowler, watched Clausen go through a painful rookie year. After Week One starter Matt Moore — who is due to become a free agent this offseason — suffered a concussion, Clausen was thrown into the mix much earlier in the season than some would have liked. He made 10 starts and struggled as the Panthers limped to a 2-14 finish.
PFW recently caught up with Gross at the Ed Block Courage Awards and asked him if the difficulty of the situation Clausen faced last season was overlooked by some of his critics. Did Clausen receive too much of the blame for the team's decline?
Gross said the criticism comes with the territory.
"Quarterback is a tough position," Gross said. "You get a lot of accolades and you get a lot of criticism and it's all well deserved because you're the guy that's throwing the ball and has the most impact on the game. Was Jimmy ready to play last year? I don't know. I think in a dream scenario you would do it like Aaron Rodgers did and come in under a Hall of Fame quarterback and learn and then get the reins handed over to you and just succeed. That wasn't the case.
"I think Matt Moore and Clausen can both fight for the spot next year and it's definitely an open competition. If we bring somebody else in, be it a veteran or another rookie, it's yet to be seen. It was a tough year for everybody, especially quarterbacks."
When it comes to the decision facing Rivera and GM Marty Hurney with the top choice in the draft, Gross said he's just happy he can sit back and watch.
"I really think that we could benefit from any good player," Gross said. "We're a young team. Maybe the offensive line is a spot that's pretty solid. Everywhere else we could use some help. I don't have a favorite pick. I'm really glad I don't have to make that decision."
Follow Dan Parr on Twitter