CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Panthers coach Ron Rivera said he’s awaiting final clearance from team physicians before officially naming Cam Newton the starter for Sunday’s game against the Cleveland Browns.
That clearance is expected to come Saturday.
”Right now, everything is pointing in the right direction,” Rivera said Friday. ”The reason I haven’t said anything (definitive) is because of that one big thing – waiting for doctors to tell me they feel good about it.”
Newton practiced Friday for the third straight day and Rivera said he feels ”very confident and comfortable” that the fourth-year quarterback will start Sunday, 12 days after a two-vehicle wreck left him with two lower back fractures.
Rivera said he expects Newton to start ”as long as he keeps going. Good things have happened and we’ve done a lot of positive things.”
He said the only way Newton wouldn’t play is if he suffers an unforeseen setback this weekend, but added the quarterback ”has had no ill effects” waking up every morning this week.
The 25-year-old Newton said Thursday he feels pain-free.
The Panthers have increased Newton’s workload every day this week to make sure he’s ready to play. That includes having him run the football, which will be a part of the game plan.
”He did a lot of turning and twisting today,” Rivera said. ”We put a lot of pressure on it. We had to do some things on purpose just so we could see. He seems to be right on track.”
Newton enters the weekend 3-8-1 as the team’s starter this season.
Derek Anderson filled in last week for Newton and threw for 277 yards and one touchdown, leading the Panthers to 19-17 win over Tampa Bay. Anderson is 2-0 as the team’s starter with both wins coming against the Buccaneers (2-11).
Newton had one of his best games of the season on Dec. 7, two days before he flipped his 1998 Dodge truck one block from the team’s stadium on the way in to watch film. He completed 21 of 33 passes for 226 yards and three touchdowns lead the Panthers to a 41-10 victory at New Orleans. He also ran 12 times for 83 yards and a touchdown, the majority of those rushes on designed running plays.
”It adds another dimension,” Rivera said. ”He and (Anderson) are similar, but they are different. Cam obviously is a better runner. They both bring a lot to the table. What Cam does is he adds that extra dimension, the ability to run.
”That was big for us against New Orleans. He had a really good rhythm. We’re hoping to recapture some of that. As long as we can continue to do those things and he can do them well, he’ll stay out there.”
Rivera said if there is one concern about Newton it is making sure he is protected in the pocket, particularly on blindside hits. Newton has been sacked 36 times in 12 games.
NOTES: Rivera said running back DeAngelo Williams will likely miss his third straight start with a broken bone in his hand. Jonathan Stewart is expected to start against Cleveland.