CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Cam Newton isn’t worried about whether he’s the fastest quarterback in the NFL. His focus this year is on being smarter with the football.
A smiling Newton wasn’t about to disagree with Michael Vick, when asked about the Philadelphia quarterback’s comments Friday on The Dan Patrick Show that, even at age 32, he’s still the fastest QB in the league.
“I don’t want to be the fastest quarterback; I want to be the guy that can’t be caught,” Newton said after Wednesday’s practice. “If you get caught in the open field that means you’re not doing something right and you will be talked about in the locker room.”
Newton doesn’t feel like he belongs in the same category with burners like with Vick, Colin Kaepernick and Robert Griffin III, even after setting an NFL quarterback record with 14 rushing touchdowns as a rookie in 2012.
Newton said Vick was probably just joking around, but added “I know he’s unbelievably fast and I won’t challenge him on that.”
Newton is pretty fast, too.
He might be even faster this year after dropping a dozen pounds to get down to 243. Newton said it was something he wanted to do, but wouldn’t say why.
But more than proving he has great speed, Newton’s goal as he prepares for this third NFL season is making more right decisions, and not forcing things or being “overly aggressive.”
That’s been a problem at times in the past that has led too often to fourth downs and punting situations.
“I feel like I need to be more mature in plays, meaning that if it’s third-and-short, let’s go get a first down,” Newton said. “If a chunk play is called downfield, I have to be mindful to know that if it’s not there I have to take a check down. A second-and-7 or second-and-5 sounds a lot better than a second-and-10.”
Although the Panthers failed to make the playoffs in 2012 finishing 7-9, Newton said he learned a lot in his second season in Carolina and felt like he improved as the year went along.
The numbers bear that out.
Over the first seven games Newton had four touchdown passes and eight interceptions. In his final nine games he had 14 TDs and four picks, while his completion percentage and yards passing per game also improved.
The Panthers finished the season on an uptick winning five of their last six games, including their final four.
“I have to be smart and execute the offense and manage the football game,” Newton said.
Newton won’t have as much to remember when he hits the huddle this season.
He’ll be working with a new offensive coordinator in Mike Shula, who was promoted from quarterbacks coach after Rob Chudzinski left to become the Cleveland Browns head coach.
Newton said Shula has placed an emphasis this year on simplifying the verbiage in the playbook. But schematically Newton doesn’t foresee many changes to Carolina’s offensive approach. The Panthers finished in the top 10 in the league in offense in both of his seasons after finishing last in the league in 2011 under then-starting QB Jimmy Clausen.
Yet, wins haven’t been there as often as he’d like.
After winning national championships at Blinn Junior College and Auburn in back-to-back seasons, Newton said he still detests losing more than he enjoys winning.
“I hate the feeling of being defeated,” he said.
The Panthers are just 13-19 in his two seasons as a starter and haven’t been to the playoffs since 2008.
Newton wants to change that.
He stopped short of making any predictions for this year, but feels confident in an offense that has added wide receivers Domenik Hixon and Ted Ginn Jr. to the receiving corps to go along with starters Steve Smith and Brandon LaFell. The Panthers also boast a solid backfield that includes running backs DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart and Mike Tolbert.
“This town, this city, this state has been dreaming for a winning season and as a player you owe that to the fans and you owe that to yourself,” Newton said.
Newton traded in his playbook for school books earlier this offseason.
He spent a better portion of the spring at Auburn working on his degree in sociology. He said he still needs 15 more credit hours to graduate. He said It’s important for him to have that degree because he talks so often to young students about the importance of staying in school.
Newton said returning to Auburn was fun.
But he said at times it was a distraction with students coming up to ask for autographs before and after class. Still, he said felt at home at Auburn.