SPARTANBURG All it took for Cam Newton to tell Steve Smith he was sorry for under-throwing him on a route Tuesday was a simple smack of the hands.
Smith, a 13-year wide receiver, reciprocated the action before jogging back to the huddle where the two pounded fists and moved on to the next play.
Later that day in the cafeteria, after the first real fight of training camp had broken out between several members of the offense against the defense, Newton playfully re-enacted how he attempted to pull defensive end Charles Johnson away from the pile.
The third-year quarterback’s interactions with teammates aren’t different from how other Panther players are getting to know each other. But he’s the franchise quarterback, and with that comes a more magnified look at his relationships with his teammates.
Newton gets that.
“I play a position that, by default, you’re a leader whether you want to be or not,” Newton said. “You look at the quarterback position all the way back to rec ball. Guys know that that’s the leader. You’re automatically the person to flip the coin or answer the questions to the referee. It’s not something that I’ve done anything different, it just comes with the territory.”
The first weekend of training camp Newton joked with quarterbacks coach Ken Dorsey about taking a breather in a sliver of shade near shrubs at Gibbs Stadium. Occasionally he’s in a group of guys playing a game of cards — not gambling — to kill time before meetings.
“You see that rapport, you see those guys hanging out together,” Coach Ron Rivera said. “And not just with the wide receivers and running backs, but really the whole team. It’s kind of, it’s all part of the process of growing and learning and he’s doing a nice job.”
On Monday he celebrated with every receiver who caught one of his touchdown throws. And Tuesday he yelled at Johnson trying to distract the 6-foot-2, 285-pound lineman from fielding a punt during drills.
“There’s no set blueprint as far as how you build team camaraderie. It just has to happen,” Newton said. “(There’s) not enough time in the day for you to split time with receivers, running backs, linemen and this player and that player. It just has to happen—whether it’s in the training room, dinner, lunch, out on the field after a particular rep.
“You have to do build a rapport with each and every player. It has to develop before game time because when you get out there and bullets start actually flying, you have to know who you’re in the line of battle with.”
Newton said he hasn’t done much differently this offseason with teammates compared to last year. But this offseason Newton is without Louis Murphy, the Panthers No. 3 wide receiver in 2012.
Newton and Murphy played together at the University of Florida from 2007-2008 and became close friends there. Last year the two had lockers near one another and shared in several locker room laughs, at least when reporters were allowed in.
The Panthers acquired Ted Ginn Jr. and Domenik Hixon to replace Murphy and add depth to the receiver position, but replacing that friendship between the two former Gators is tougher to do.
“I just talked to Murph not too long ago, yesterday as a matter of fact, “Newton said. “We had a relationship before I even came into this league and we will have a relationship after football. He’s a dear person that I care about and will always care about.”
But it doesn’t just stop at teammates, be them current or former. In recent months, embattled Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Johnny Manziel reached out to Newton on how the Panthers quarterback dealt with overnight success and stardom during his 2010 season at Auburn.
Newton declined to say what his advice was, saying his conversation with Manziel was private. But he called the fellow Heisman winner a brother and said he’s in Manziel’s corner.
“I hope that everything works in the best for him so that he can get back to what he likes to do and that’s playing football,” Newton said.
“You have to go through certain situations in life to prepare you for what’s in store next. He will learn from this just like us all.”
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