CHARLOTTE, N.C. — While Cam Newton says he’s a big Tim Tebow fan, he downplayed the reunion on Sunday night with his former college teammate.
Newton said his focus this week isn’t on renewing old friendships but rather on continuing to build momentum on offense when the Panthers (No. 20 in the AP Pro32) visit the New York Jets in what’ll certainly be his last significant playing time of the preseason.
Carolina’s starters won’t play much in the preseason finale at Pittsburgh on Thursday.
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Newton said he learned a lot from Tebow during his two seasons at Florida, but the high-profile NFL quarterbacks haven’t kept in contact since Newton left the program in 2009. Newton was a redshirt freshman in 2008 when Tebow led Florida to its second national championship in three seasons.
Newton transferred to Blinn College while Tebow finished his college career with the Gators.
“There’s a lot that I’ve learned from Tim and his professionalism,” Newton said of Tebow, a fellow Heisman Trophy winner. “You know how his approach is to this game and that’s one thing everybody has to respect about him — and I certainly do.”
Newton will start for Carolina, while Tebow is expected to back up starter Mark Sanchez.
The Panthers are treating Sunday night’s game as if it were their regular season opener.
They’ve game-planned for the Jets and will play their starters into the third quarter. They’ve even used simulated crowd noise in practice, a rarity for a preseason game. Coach Ron Rivera has spoken repeatedly to his players about performing on a “big stage” in front of a national television audience.
“I feel as if every stage is big for us this year,” Newton said. “We have a point to prove and we have to have that chip on our shoulder each and every game.”
Newton led three scoring drives — two of those for touchdowns — in three possessions in last Friday night’s 23-16 exhibition win over the Miami Dolphins.
He was particularly sharp on his throws and the offense functioned well as a unit.
“This game is very important. The tempo is going to be increased to a degree,” Newton said. “We just have to continue what we’ve been doing and do what our coaches have been preaching since day one. Everyone has to be accountable and most importantly, just finish.”
It won’t be easy.
Rivera said the Panthers will be without wide receiver Steve Smith, who remains sidelined with a foot infection. That means either Seyi Ajirotutu or Louis Murphy will get the start opposite Brandon LaFell, although Rivera hasn’t decided which one will get the nod.
On defense middle linebacker Jon Beason remains out, but the Panthers are anxious to see the return of linebacker Thomas Davis.
“Really excited about it,” Rivera said. “He’s had a really good week, and knock on wood it continues.”
Davis hasn’t appeared in a game since the second week of last season when he tore his right anterior cruciate ligament for the third time in less than two years.
“Warrior. Straight warrior,” Newton said of Davis. “He’s obviously a team leader. Everybody responds to Thomas and what he stands for, and we need him. His influence on this team is unbelievable. He’s gotten the short end as far as the injury stick, but he’s battling. That’s what you want to see as a coach, as a player, as a fan of the game.
“This guy has every reason in the world to quit, but he’s still fighting.”