CHARLOTTE — Every time Cam Newton steps out onto the football practice fields, coaches and players of the Carolina Panthers, as well as all media members gaze in his direction to see what he will and won’t be able to do. There isn’t a motion Newton makes that isn’t watched intently, even if it’s a stroll to grab a quick drink of water.
Everybody wants to know how his left ankle, the one he had surgery on back in March to tighten ligaments, is healing and if he’ll be able to participate in Carolina’s minicamp this week.
"I think I’m on schedule to make a speedy recovery," Newton said. "We are in the last curve and I am just trying to be smart about it, do everything that the trainers ask of me and more and see where that gets me."
Newton was able to throw some passes during the team’s first day of minicamp on Tuesday. He threw from three- and five-step drops, and even threw a couple of times to his new receivers away from team drills. Those activities alone were more than Panthers coach Ron Rivera had anticipated from his fourth-year quarterback. But understandably, the team is still being overly cautious.
"He’s on track and we’re not going to force any issue with him, so he did (Tuesday) what he was supposed to do," Rivera said. "We feel very good about where he is as far as his recovery is concerned."
Rivera said even when Newton returns to full strength, which will likely be at training camp in late July, the designed quarterback runs will be very limited.
While Newton is only able to stand on the sidelines during the drills, any little bit that he can throw to his receivers is considered a major plus.
"His timing is probably the most important thing as far as them running the routes and him releasing the ball," Rivera said. "That’s probably the biggest thing that he’s really got to get into focus. I’m not quite concerned about him running right now, because that comes very natural to him."
Newton is like a corralled wild horse while being unable to do much physically. He’s anxious to do as much as he can as fast as he can. It’s driving him crazy to constantly be standing still and watching the rest of the team work.
"He’s chomping at the bit," Rivera said. "He can’t help himself. He wants to be out there in the middle of it because that’s who he is. … I think he’s really growing and learning from the situation."
Even though he’s from Houston, 6-year-old George Gring wanted to meet and hang with his favorite player: Cam Newton. And thanks to the efforts of the Make-A-Wish Foundation, little George got wish.
George was diagnosed as Burkitt’s Lymphoma, a cancer in his intestines that required two surgeries, five bouts of chemotherapy and countless spinal taps before finally putting the caner into remission. George was signed to a contract with the Panthers, with a hefty amount of Skittles and KitKat candy bars as his signing bonus. He got to throw and catch passes with Newton and tight end Greg Olson. He was also given a special pair of gold high-top cleats to match the ones Newton was wearing.
"Anytime as a player, as a role model, as whoever, you get a chance to give back and make somebody’s day, man, I’m all for it," Newton said. "He lightened my day up for it to be such a monotonous process for me coming out and pretty much doing nothing. I was excited today, because of my man, G-square."
Newton said the fact that George is from Houston makes him even more aware that athletes are role models to kids all across the country, not just in the local vicinity.
"The impact I had puts into perspective how much people really actually watch you," Newton said. "Even though he’s hundreds of miles away from where we are on the East Coast, it still makes an impact being in this NFL. It also puts stress on you to let you know you have to be mindful of what you do and what you say as well."
This won’t be the last time George gets to hang with Newton. On August 17, George and his family will return as the team’s Keep Pounding drummer for the preseason game against Kansas City.