Cam Newton aims for bigger and better

SPARTANBURG, SC — Cam Newton was asked Monday afternoon if he was going to add to his Superman celebration that gained so much national attention last season.

His reply: “Hmmmmm. Stay tuned and you’ll see.”

There are many other reasons to stay tuned regarding the Carolina Panthers and Newton, last season’s Rookie of the Year in the NFL.

Newton seemingly began preparing for this season as soon as the 2011 season ended. He spent the offseason studying video of all 16 games, picking apart every little mistake he made.

His intent is to improve every day and, thus, avoid any kind of sophomore slump.

Good luck finding a teammate who doesn’t genuinely believe in the 2010 Heisman Trophy winner from Auburn. And who knows a quarterback better than the men assigned to protect him?

“Cam is better than I ever thought he’d be when we drafted him,” said left tackle Jordan Gross, a 10-year veteran. “You hoped for a certain level of success out of him and he went above and beyond that last year. The leadership qualities he has are outstanding, just what you want your quarterback to be. His work ethic is great — physically, mentally and all of that.”  

Even though Carolina finished just 6-10 in 2011, it was an improvement of five victories from the 2010 campaign. And it was enough to spur center Ryan Kalil to buy a full-page advertisement last week in the Charlotte Observer in which he guaranteed the Panthers would reach the Super Bowl. Kalil wouldn’t have made such a bold statement if not for the presence of Newton.

Asked about Kalil’s bold action, Newton joked that he wanted to place an ad in the Spartanburg paper after his boom box was taken from his locker.

All jokes aside, and Newton was certainly full of them Monday, the second-year quarterback is all business when it comes to getting better and winning football games.

It’s a lofty goal for Newton to try to improve on his 2011 season, when he completed 60 percent of his 517 pass attempts for 4,051 yards, 21 touchdowns and 17 interceptions. He became the first player in NFL history to pass for 4,000 yards and run for 500 in a season and set an NFL record with 14 rushing touchdowns by a quarterback.

No wonder most everyone around these parts sees no ceiling for Newton.

“The sky may be the limit for this young man,” Panthers head coach Ron Rivera said.

That includes more than just running and passing the football. Newton has the personality and confidence to be the face of the franchise and a leader in the locker room. It’s something that slowly came to him last season, but it’s now a greater priority.

“It’s already a given with certain positions in this league where leadership comes with the person,” Newton said. “I play quarterback, and that’s the most scrutinized, criticized and critiqued position in all of sports, I believe. So when you play this position you have to have a certain amount of leadership everybody looks for, whether you want it or not.”

Perhaps the most impressive words anyone has spoken about Newton since training camp opened Saturday came from Gross. He has worked with several quarterbacks with varied experience, but he sees Newton as the focal point for all that can be positive about the Panthers.

“He just fits in so much better right now as a teammate in the locker room,” Gross said. “He knows what he’s doing out there now. He’s calling the plays quick, making adjustments, calling the pass protection, which is something that last year he didn’t have a big grasp on. If he continues to improve like that, it’s going to be more and more fun to be on a team with him.”

He’s made believers in his teammates.

And what did Newton think of Kalil’s Super Bowl ad?

“We back Ryan 110 percent,” said Newton, who was wearing a Los Angeles Dodgers cap. “Nothing that anybody else on this team does we have no choice but to back them. I’m not going to stand up here and say he shouldn’t have did that because, with 32 teams, everybody wants to win the Super Bowl. So we’re not going to hide or anything.

“Everybody on this team backs Ryan Kalil, from the coaches to the players to the management to the janitor to the fans. If you’re on this ship, you’re going to back him.”

Just as they’re going to back Newton.