During Cam Newtons rookie season, there was occasional talk about the Carolina Panthers limiting how often they allowed their franchise quarterback to run.
It didnt come from the teams offensive linemen.
Were not saying that, left tackle Jordan Gross said.
After running just five times during a Week 1 loss at Tampa Bay, Newton rushed for a career-high 71 yards on 13 carries last weekend in a 35-27 win against New Orleans. Newton also posted his second-highest passer rating (129.2) against the Saints by completing 14 of 20 passes for 253 yards and a touchdown.
Gross does not believe thats a coincidence.
When he runs, it causes problems for defenses. That 40-yard run he had shows you its not like hes just a slow quarterback running, Gross said. Hes a threat on the ground. He threw the ball well, too. I think he plays better when hes doing all that stuff. He kind of gets more in the groove of things and he throws the ball better and just has a better day usually.
The Panthers are 6-3 when Newton rushes for at least 50 yards but 1-4 when he is their leading rusher.
Rob Chudzinskis offense seems to be at its best when the zone read package is clicking, as it was Sunday when Newton read his keys and either handed the ball to a running back or kept it. The Panthers rushed for 219 yards a week after tying a franchise low with 10 rushing yards against Tampa Bay.
New York Giants coach Tom Coughlin, whose team will visit Charlotte on Thursday night, said running backs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart make the zone read even more dangerous.
Youve got concerns because not only are they looking to read certain individuals in your defensive front, theyre also setting up other things by his reaction, Coughlin said. Not simply if you keep, pull or pitch, all that comes to prevail. When you have a couple of obvious runners the ability of Williams and Stewart, it puts more pressure on you because you cant arm tackle those guys.
The same goes for a 6-foot-5, 245-pound Newton, whose 14 rushing touchdowns last season were the most by a quarterback in league history. The Panthers believe Newtons size and strength combined with his knack for avoiding the big hit make him less susceptible to injury than other mobile quarterbacks such as Michael Vick.
If he wants to do it, then let him run the ball, Gross said. Because hes a big, strong guy and hes one of the best goal-line backs in the league, too.
Coach Ron Rivera said Newton knows when to make another move, and when to slide.
He gets hit, but not big. And I think theres a difference in that, as well, Rivera said. And a lot of the runs that we have are calculated. Hes reading for the most part as to whether or not its a good idea to hand it off or keep it.
But it doesnt hurt my feelings when he hands it off, though. Im going to be honest. I do worry about him when hes out there.
Newton took every snap as a rookie until Week 16, when Derek Anderson came in at the end of a 48-16 win against Tampa Bay. Including this season, Newton has yet to miss a play to injury.
Its Cam Newton, 6-5, 250-255 pounds. Hes built like a horse, fullback Mike Tolbert said. So hes ready to roll all the time. Im not worried about him taking a hit.
Newton said he is up for whatever the coaches want him to do.
Im a football player at the end of the day, he said. If they want me to run, Ill run. If they want me to throw, Ill throw. If they want me to block, Ill block. If they want me to go get some water to better the team, Im going to do it.
Heres what Gross wants Newton to do: Run now and worry later.
If I thought I had 12 years left in my career, Id maybe tell him to slow down. But for me, lets do it, said Gross, in his 10th season. Its a lot of fun watching him run with the ball. And he doesnt take a ton of real hard hits. Hes getting smart about getting down and getting out of bounds.