CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Wearing his baseball cap backward, Matt Moore walked into the Carolina Panthers' locker room Thursday and immediately began joking around with his golfing buddy, kicker Rhys Lloyd.
If Moore was nervous that he's about to make just his fourth career start and his first since 2007, he sure wasn't showing it.
"I think the fact that he is laid back will help him," Lloyd said. "Not a whole lot of things bother him."
With Jake Delhomme sidelined by a broken finger on his throwing hand, Moore is preparing to take over the Panthers' struggling offense in Sunday's game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It will come after a long wait in a football career that has required patience.
Moore didn't start in high school until his senior year, changed colleges, briefly contemplated playing professional baseball, went undrafted, was cut by the Dallas Cowboys, didn't throw a single pass last season and has gone more than 23 months between starts.
"The only thing I can do is be ready," Moore said, shrugging. "And that's how I've approached the whole thing."
Moore came from a sports family, but it was baseball, not football. His father, Don, bounced around the St. Louis Cardinals' minor-league system until his baseball career was derailed by injuries.
His son's top sport was baseball while growing up in Valencia, Calif. The younger Moore had a strong arm, and that drifted him toward quarterback, but it was a crowded position at Hart High School.
"We had a kid, Kyle Matter, who had a scholarship at Stanford," Moore said. "He was a senior, and I was a junior."
But Moore starred in his only year as a high school starter and earned a scholarship at UCLA. He played two seasons for the Bruins, but he couldn't beat Drew Olson for the permanent starting job and quit school. Moore was contemplating his options when he was selected in the 22nd round of the 2004 baseball draft by the Los Angeles Angels.
Moore said he was offered a signing bonus of about $80,000, which included college expenses. He wasn't sure what to do, but when Oregon State called asking him to play football, he decided to head north.
"I had a lot of friends that went and played baseball out of high school. No offense to any of them, but it's hard," Moore said. "Baseball is a hard road to take, and they were good players. I don't look at it as I took the wrong road by any means."
Moore threw for 5,733 yards and 29 touchdowns in just two seasons at Oregon State. But he also threw 27 interceptions, and he wasn't drafted by an NFL team in 2007.
Moore eventually signed with the Cowboys, but they decided to keep just two quarterbacks and cut him before the start of the regular season.
The Panthers quickly signed Moore, and he was expected to watch and learn behind Delhomme and backup David Carr. Only then Delhomme was lost to a season-ending elbow injury, and Carr struggled, then was hurt. Aging verteran Vinny Testaverde was signed, but he was hurt, too.
Enter Moore. Playing with a scaled-back playbook, he went 2-1 as a starter to close 2007, throwing three touchdowns and two interceptions.
"In '07, everything was real quick for me," Moore said. "My first read, if that wasn't there, I'd go to my second read and get the ball out."
Moore was expected to be the backup in 2008, but he broke a bone in his leg during the final preseason game. When he got healthy, he was the Panthers' emergency No. 3 QB for the final 12 games.
Moore started this season as the No. 3 QB, too, but moved up a spot when backup Josh McCown injured his knee and ankle after replacing an ineffective Delhomme in Week 1.
No matter how poorly Delhomme played, Panthers coach John Fox resisted putting in Moore amid concerns about his decision-making and knowledge of the offense. But with the fiery Delhomme sidelined, a much calmer Moore is poised to replace him.
"I think Matt is going to do an outstanding job," Delhomme said. "When he played in '07, here was a guy who came in the first week in September. So he didn't have a basis for what we were doing."
Moore might have little to work with Sunday. Running back DeAngelo Williams and wide receivers Muhsin Muhammad and Dwayne Jarrett missed practice Thursday with injuries. But while fullback Brad Hoover is sure the Buccaneers will "pressure the hell out of us," he doubts Moore will be too rattled.
It doesn't seem to be in his nature.
"He's very casual, sort of a happy-go-lucky type of guy," Hoover said. "But he works hard and comes prepared. We just want him to be extremely prepared this Sunday."
Moore's performance while Delhomme is out could determine his NFL future. The waiting certainly is over.
"It may take a little time to get his pinpoint accuracy down. But he does have a nice touch on the ball, too," Muhammad said. "We're all looking forward to seeing what he can do."