SPARTANBURG The Panthers have been like study partners during training camp in Spartanburg, with players teaching and learning from one another as they prepare for their first test.
That test will be 7 p.m. Saturday at Bank of America Stadium against Houston in the first exhibition of the season.
But dont expect Cam Newton to give any progress report before then.
Right now is not the time that you grade, the quarterback said Thursday. Saturday is the first time we can put a product on the field that we can test whats going on. Going against each other in practice is only going to take us so far. Weve been sharpening our blades, but I think Saturday will be the first pop quiz.
Newton repeated the phrase only time will tell, though last year certainly showed a lot. During a record-breaking 2011, Newton passed for more than 4,000 yards, accounted for 35 touchdowns passing and rushing and won Associated Press Offensive Rookie of the Year.
And despite the numbers, accolades and brighter spotlight, the franchise star still is working on the little things.
Newton can be spotted during team drills throwing with ball boys before going to the huddle. After practice and before he is the last person to sign autographs Newton usually is still on the field throwing to reserve wide receivers that might not even make the final cut.
Everybody gets reps from me, Jimmy (Clausen) to (Derek Anderson). As far as me being comfortable, I think thats true, but I still have to get better, Newton said. We have guys who were doing extra with Armanti (Edwards), Darvin (Adams), Steve (Smith), (Brandon) LaFell. Its a competition everywhere, not only at the wide receiver position. And competition brings out the best in people.
The teams best was not on display Wednesday during the opening hour of practice when coach Ron Rivera huddled the team for what we considered to be a lack of overall effort.
Hes just not going to allow us to go through the motions, Newton said. Yeah, it was hot. But were going to have 1 oclock games this year, so what are we going to do? Were not going to have the luxury of having coach stop the game and bring everybody up.
We have enough people who know the right way, who know how to win. Its really unacceptable, but at the same time when we went through that, everybody needs a reset button.
Newton is hungry, and he said he is going into this season with the same mindset as last year: win. He watches film from last year and finds holes in his game he hopes to tighten up, while other teams will be watching the same film trying to find ways to stop one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks in the league.
The word is out on Newton, and Rivera knows teams will be scheming to stop the Panthers zone read.
I think hell face teams that will try to give a lot of different looks, Rivera said. I think theyll try to move their fronts and disguise their coverages as much as they can to try and confuse him and make things a little bit harder on him. Were not going to be a surprise and were not sneaking up on anybody this year.
For as good as Newton looked last year, he still characterizes some of his play as unacceptable and said his offseason has been very productive.
He wants to cut down the turnovers he had 17 interceptions. He also hopes to fine tune his ball placement, and he has been especially good this camp at hitting tight end Greg Olsen on corner routes.
But Newton is throwing in a red jersey to targets in white jerseys while trying to avoid his teammates in blue. He is ready to apply his offseason work and the lessons from camp to a game.
Anybody can make a play on the first play of the game when everyones energized, Newton said, but what about third quarter when were playing very lethargically? Can we come out and make a play? Thats what separates the good teams and the bad teams.
Only time will tell.