The Carolina Panthers like the way their quarterback, Cam Newton, is maturing.
By THE SPORTS XCHANGEFS Carolinas
As much as his prodigious natural talent,
Cam Newton has also impressed with his attitude in his short time in charge.
That has carried its way through offseason workouts in his second full season, and evidenced by his unwillingness to get into a bi-coastal war of words. Newton has clearly emerged as the leader of a young team, but to this day defers to others.
"It's a lot of people's team," Newton said.
That's admirable to say, but the reality is the Panthers' future as a franchise will be determined by how he develops. He's off to a fast start, having already been named the offensive rookie of the year, but he showed huge strides down the stretch, when he led the Panthers to four wins in their last six games to finish 6-10, a four-win improvement over the previous year.
"He's really maturing and becoming what you hope for in your starting quarterback," Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. "You're seeing a continued evolution based on what happened at the end of last year."
Unlike a year ago, when the lockout kept players out of facilities, Newton has an offseason to work on his craft. Teammates have noted his constant presence, and willingness to dig in. That's going to enable the Panthers to evolve offensively, and to better use his unique set of skills.
"Last year (this time) I was just working out, with a couple of pages from the playbook to go by and that's it," Newton said. "It's nothing like having an organized team function that you can talk to your coaches and ask them about the things that are going to make you a better player.
"To come out here every day and get some reps, mental or physical, is huge."
Newton also showed his maturity by staying out of a recent flap started by San Francisco quarterback Alex Smith, who defended his own low passing totals by using Newton as an example of a passer who had to throw too much because of big deficits.
It wasn't entirely accurate, but that didn't keep a number of players from both sides from chiming in, including linebackers Jon Beason and Patrick Willis.
Newton deferred, another sign of a maturity some didn't expect.
And that, more than any title anyone could bestow, makes him the unquestioned leader.
"People will gravitate to who's been making plays and who's accountable and who puts a lot on their plate to make plays," Newton said. "So I think leadership will rise to the top.
"The playmakers are going to have to make plays; the leaders are going to have lead -- if you have to ask yourself what you are, you're neither. So I think it's kind of a given who the leaders on this team are."
--The Panthers sniffed around some veteran receiving options (including Jacoby Jones before he signed with Baltimore), but the most likely option is that their rotation will consist of in-house candidates.
The starting jobs are locked in with Steve Smith and Brandon LaFell, and the competition for the third job has sufficient in-house candidates.
The clear preference would be tall, fast David Gettis (since the Rob Chudzinski offense has always found vertical opportunities for Vincent Jackson-types). Gettis missed all of last year with a torn ACL, and is doing some work in OTAs.
Because he was productive in 15 starts as a rookie in 2010 (37-508-3) with an odd lot of passers, the smart money's on him earning the job.
"Once we establish who that other guy is it's going to help our offense," Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. "I think David is well on his way right now as long as he continues to work on it and regain that confidence.
"He's looking real good. He's getting his speed back and quickness and now it's just a matter of him building up that confidence in the knee. You see the ability because of his speed, quickness and size. He's going to help us."
Beyond Gettis, the Panthers have a host of smaller options who are more built for work out of the slot. Former third-round pick Armanti Edwards will have to make it as a receiver this year, since the punt return job has been given to rookie Joe Adams. Kick returner Kealoha Pilares is in the mix as well. Other players, such as former San Diego project Seyi Ajirotutu and practice squader Darvin Adams are on the periphery of the competition as well.
--The Panthers will have to open their season on the road because the Democratic National Convention will be in Charlotte, and it will also keep them out of their own building for a few days.
Because of complications with security for the convention which will be blocks away in downtown Charlotte, the Panthers are expected to do part of their prep work for the Sept. 9 opener at Tampa Bay at the IMG Academy in Brandenton, Fla.
--The Panthers signed UCLA wide receiver Nelson Rosario, and plan to turn him into a tight end. The 6-5, 225-pound Rosario had 64 catches for 1,161 yards for the Bruins last year. They use so many two-tight end formations, there are plenty of chances to use different types of players.
--To make room for Rosario on the roster, the Panthers waived running back Princeton McCarty, an undrafted rookie from Idaho.
QUOTE TO NOTE
"Brandon is starting to establish himself, which I think is important. Brandon should start to do that. Brandon should always have that carrot in front of him because he's a young guy that's learning and growing and the more he grows the better he's going to be." -- Head coach Ron Rivera, on WR Brandon LaFell, now penciled into the starting lineup.