TAMPA — Rudy Carpenter is nervous, and he is not alone. No. 3 quarterbacks are about to disappear in the NFL like Stickum and three-man wedges.
A rule change expanded the active game-day roster to 46 players and removed the third-string emergency quarterback designation. That makes it more likely teams will go with two quarterbacks this season and use the extra roster spot for a position player.
"It's definitely an option to keep three (quarterbacks)," Bucs coach Raheem Morris said. "I know a lot of people, the new wave is to go with two and some of those things."
Carpenter is battling former Tennessee quarterback Jonathan Crompton for the third QB spot and will start tonight's preseason finale at Washington. But the point will be moot if the Bucs elect to keep only Josh Freeman and Josh Johnson under center.
"I can't act like I don't hear certain things," Carpenter said. "But I can't worry about that."
Carpenter, 25, is entering his third pro season and has not thrown a pass in a game that mattered. The former Arizona State star has served mostly as a scout squad quarterback and relies on the preseason to get live reps.
On Saturday, Carpenter threw a 7-yard touchdown pass to tight end Nathan Overbay with 3:11 remaining to give the Bucs a 17-13 preseason victory over the Dolphins. With all the starters, and many backups, expected to sit out tonight, Carpenter will draw a rare starting assignment. A year ago at Houston, he went 15 of 22 for 203 yards and two touchdowns in a 24-17 win in the final preseason game.
"You definitely have to go into it with a little different mind-set knowing you're going to see more looks and get more extensive playing time," Carpenter said. "Fortunately, I was lucky last year and got to start the last (preseason) game against the Texans, so I have a little bit less anxiety because of that. I'm just more excited to get a chance to play for a longer period of time for the Bucs or for somebody else."
With final roster cuts Saturday, the Bucs have tough decisions to make at several positions. Morris said among the hardest positions to trim will be the defensive line, receiver and defensive back.
"We've got some position battles all the way across the board, and like I said the other day, it's a good thing that it's getting harder to cut down your team," Morris said. "I can go on and on with positions, but it's certainly getting tougher."
Working in Carpenter's favor, Johnson will be a free agent at the end of the season and will want to go somewhere to compete as a starter. Carpenter said he would prefer to remain in Tampa Bay as long as the Bucs will have him. But the new roster rules probably won't help.
"Even when you're a backup, you feel like you're fighting for a job and have to put something on tape to secure your job," Carpenter said. "But I just try to do what I'm supposed to do and if it works out, it works out and if it doesn't, hopefully I can go somewhere else."