Cam Newton put on a show for the more than 15,000 Carolina Panthers fans who braved threatening weather Saturday to get a glimpse of the rookie quarterback at the team’s annual Fan Fest at Bank of America Stadium.
The No. 1 overall pick looked extremely comfortable in his new home stadium, making short work of a two-minute drill on offense by throwing a 70-yard touchdown pass to tight end Gary Barnidge and then adding a 65-yard scoring strike to David Clowney later on.
It capped an impressive first week for Newton, who led Auburn to a national championship last year and won the Heisman Trophy.
Earlier in training camp, coach Ron Rivera was asked his impressions of Newton and responded, ”Wow!”
Fans seemed to have the same reaction Saturday, giving Newton a hero’s welcome. Many view him as the savior for an offense that finished last in the league in scoring, total offense and passing yards in 2010.
”It felt great,” Newton said. ”For me this whole process has been a rollercoaster ride – up and down, up and down. But the one thing I’ve been trying to focus on in practice is being more consistent. … New plays are going in every day. I’m just trying to learn each day.”
Wide receiver Steve Smith, who worked out with Newton in Charlotte during the lockout, said both Newton and Jimmy Clausen are doing well.
When asked about Newton in particular, Smith called him ”a superior athlete.”
”He’s on his back foot throwing 50-yard passes. I mean, c’mon,” Smith said. ”I’m not going to sit here every week and say how good Cam is. He didn’t win the Heisman Trophy because there was bad counting on the ballot. He won because he’s good.”
Rivera isn’t saying who’ll start the regular season opener on Sept. 11 against Arizona, but it’s pretty easy to tell who the fans’ choice is. On Saturday they booed Clausen when he threw incomplete passes and cheered when Newton did just about anything.
Smith said both quarterbacks stand a better chance of succeeding in this year’s West Coast offense, run by offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski.
”The quarterbacks are doing what has not been done around here in a long time,” Smith said. ”The philosophy has been in years past is not to screw it up and now it’s put your foot down on the gas pedal and go hard.”
Newton praised Chudzinski for being ”open-minded” when it comes to the playbook.
Chudzinski, who coached under Norv Turner in San Diego and is using many aspects of the Chargers’ offense in Carolina, even installed some zone-read-option plays, something Newton excelled at last year at Auburn.
”That means a lot to me personally,” Newton said. ”He’s always willing to put in things that make everybody excited. Not only me, but everybody. He’s willing to capitalize on my strong points of the game.”
It’s hard to find someone who’s not happy with the new offense which is expected to feature tight ends Greg Olsen and Jeremy Shockey.
Smith, in particular, is thrilled after two seasons where his season statistics dropped off dramatically under former offensive coordinator Jeff Davidson.
”Run blocking is not my forte,” Smith said. ”And it’s nice to have layers and have multiple sets and not be standing in one spot for 70 plays during a game. I get to line up at different spots and it’s refreshing. I like that. It’s not (coaches) saying, hey, we’re going to move you around and then never do it. Here they are actually saying it and it’s happening.”
Newton, who signed a four-year, $22 million contract with a team option for a fifth season, spent a good portion of Saturday flashing his million-dollar smile and soaking things in.
”In kindergarten they always said kids do something that you want to wake up and do in the morning and enjoy doing that for the rest of your life,” Newton said. ”I’m under contract for a couple of years so every single day I’m going to enjoy playing football. I’m going to be the person I am and that’s enjoying life and playing football.”
NOTES: The Panthers claimed DB Chevis Jackson off waivers from Denver. Jackson has played in 33 games with three starts during his three-year career. … The Panthers were without six defensive starters on Saturday including DE Greg Hardy, DT Ron Edwards, LBs Jon Beason and Thomas Davis, and CBs Chris Gamble and Captain Munnerlyn. Rivera said the team hasn’t made a decision yet on whether they’ll place Edwards on injured reserve after he tore his triceps Thursday night.