Photos from Saints practice on Thursday, September 24, 2015. Photos by Alex Restrepo (New Orleans Saints photos)
You don't last as a backup quarterback in the NFL for long as Luke McCown has – 12 seasons, divided among five franchises, including the last three with the New Orleans Saints – by being wide-eyed and overwhelmed.
So from all outward appearances, Luke appears to have a cool hand (and demeanor) regarding the possibility that he could start at quarterback in place of Drew Brees on Sunday, when the Saints (0-2) play the Carolina Panthers (2-0) in an NFC South Division game at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte.
Brees bruised his rotator cuff in a 26-19 loss to Tampa Bay last Sunday, placing some uncertainty over whether he will be able to play in his 156th game (including playoffs) for the Saints. Brees never has missed a Saints game due to injury.
"The thing with backups around this league is that you prepare every week to be the starter. You have to, or you don't get the opportunity to be the backup because you're not ready," said McCown, who has completed 184 of 317 passes for 2,035 yards and nine touchdowns, with 14 interceptions, in his career. He has started nine of the 54 games in which he has played, but none in 32 games with the Saints.
"So this week of preparation has been no different for me than it was last week, than it was two weeks ago. You're getting all the mental reps you can get, studying all the looks, memorizing the formations of the plays and then just being ready. If Drew ever goes down, to be ready to shine like all backups want the chance to shine."
With that last statement, McCown smiled. But he understands the seriousness of the task.
The Saints' offense has sputtered in the opening two weeks of the regular season, with consecutive games of 19 points and an average of 366 yards per game.
The positive for McCown – if he's called upon to play – is that he received snaps with the first-team offense during training camp and in preseason games.
"He's a great quarterback," receiver Brandin Cooks said. "I'm very comfortable playing with Luke. He's accurate, (and) he can throw the ball well, so that's not a worry at all on this team."
Said McCown: "You want a comfort level with the people you're walking into the huddle (with), looking at their eyes, they're looking at you, seeing the confidence they have hopefully to produce with whatever amount of preparation you get during the week. As a player, you want to feel that. I'm fortunate to be here and have been on this team for a while now, and know these guys. That's what you look forward to as a backup.
"This offense is what it is, and it produces. If you play within the confines of it, it produces. You trust the players and you trust the coaches and the schemes and the concepts that we have, the offense will work for you."
McCown completed 24 of 35 passes for 323 yards and three touchdowns, without an interception, in preseason.
"You lean on the experience that you got throughout the training camp, throughout the preseason and you draw from those memories, those opportunities that you had," he said. "Specifically, those couple of games where I got to run with the first unit in the preseason. Hopefully, that comes right back in case the opportunity arises where I need to play."
But while he said he's excited about the possibility of playing, he will do whatever is necessary to help the Saints win their first game of the season.
"The role that you play, if you want to make a difference in the league and on your team, you're willing to carry the water if they ask you to if it's going to help your team win," McCown said.
"And that's what I try and do – lean on my experiences, the things that I've done, the situations that I've been in, the offenses that I've been in, the looks that I've seen on defense, share with the younger guys around me. Maybe that gives them one nugget, one edge, one sliver of a little bit more confidence to do their job. And if that helps us win, I'm all for it."