Panthers optimistic with QB Newton at the helm
Cam Newton cracks a knowing smile when asked about his team’s
prospects this season.
Like many of his teammates, Newton has a hard time suppressing
his enthusiasm when it comes to talking about what’s happening
these days in Carolina. There’s an undercurrent of confidence here
after the Panthers finished strong in 2011, winning four of their
last six games.
”I think the whole vibe around this team is different this
year,” Newton said. ”There’s a sense in the air that everybody is
anticipating something great is going to happen and that’s
Blame it on center Ryan Kalil if you’d like.
Convinced the Panthers are on the verge of something special the
team’s three-time Pro Bowl center took out of full-page
advertisement this summer in a local newspaper promising fans the
franchise would win its first ”sterling silver Vince Lombardi
Naturally, Kalil took some heat for the bold prediction
considering the Panthers won just six games last season.
He doesn’t care.
”The idea wasn’t the hope of being wishful for a Super Bowl,
but really that I feel confident that we have the talent, drive and
commitment to make it happen,” Kalil said. ”Yeah, it’s a bold
thing to say. But all I care about is who I wrote it for, our fans
and my teammates.”
Kalil hasn’t backed down from his prediction and others in the
organization quickly rallied behind him.
Now it’s become a rallying cry.
Coach Ron Rivera said he wants more players on his roster with
that same attitude.
”I’m right behind him and I feel the same way,” said Rivera,
in his second season with the Panthers. ”In fact, I’m stepping out
in front and saying the same thing. This is a group of men that if
they understand and work hard and put it on themselves, who knows,
the sky can be the limit.”
Said defensive end Charles Johnson: ”I agree with him. People
don’t say it publicly, but I agree with him.” Owner Jerry
Richardson even said Kalil’s prediction ”pretty cool.”
To make this a Super Bowl season the Panthers need to stay
healthy and learn how to win close games.
They didn’t do either last year.
Seventeen players finished on injured reserve, including
defensive leaders Jon Beason and Thomas Davis. The Panthers led or
were tied in the fourth quarter in 12 of 16 games. In two others
they were within four points of the lead.
”We have to finish,” Newton said.
Newton, who has become the team’s unquestioned leader, is
clearly a big reason for the team’s optimism this season.
Carolina went from last in the league in scoring and total
offense in 2010 to fifth and seventh, respectively, in those
categories last year.
Newton set a rookie record with 4,051 yards passing and proved
to be incredibly dangerous with his feet, rushing for 706 yards and
14 touchdowns – the most ever by an NFL quarterback.
The AP Offensive Rookie of the Year, Newton put up huge numbers
despite not having an offseason. He arrived at training camp after
the NFL lockout never having run a play in practice, but in a few
weeks earned the starting job and never looked back.
”This year, having that offseason, the minicamp and the OTAs
are huge, especially for a young team with a young quarterback,”
Kalil said. ”Cam did a great job last year in the short time he
had to prepare. So we have tremendous expectations especially now
that we’re in the same system. We can clean up some of the things
that we didn’t do well last year.”
Even Newton said last year was a bit of a whirlwind.
”There were a lot of times I felt like I was guessing,” Newton
said. ”That can happen in this league and sometimes it
Newton’s growing pains are the least of this team’s
The goal during the offseason was to improve the defense and
Key injuries caused constant shuffling on defense and forced
coordinator Sean McDermott to keep his scheme simple. The Panthers
suffered, finishing 28th in total defense while surrendering 26.8
points per game. Special teams blunders led to three losses,
including the season opener when they allowed Patrick Peterson to
return a punt 89 yards in the fourth quarter, the deciding points
in 28-21 loss to Arizona.
If the offense can remain productive and the defense and special
teams can improve just a little, the Panthers surely could be a
”Yeah definitely, I mean it’s not rocket science or anything,”
safety Charles Godfrey said.
If the Panthers can do that, Newton’s smile might just get a
”I can’t wait,” Newton said. ”I think it’s going to be a fun
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