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Cam Newton among the six players selected as a Panthers team captain

  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2013/09/05/21/24/18Q1AO.Em.138.jpeg|210
    MIKE MCCARN - AP
    Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1) walks along the sidelines during an NFL preseason football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Charlotte, N.C., Thursday, Aug. 29, 2013.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2013/09/05/21/24/aPJBL.Em.138.jpeg|209
    MIKE MCCARN - AP
    Carolina Panthers middle linebacker Luke Kuechly (59) listens to defensive calls on a radio during an NFL preseason football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Charlotte, N.C., Thursday, Aug. 29, 2013.

Panthers quarterback Cam Newton will have more than the No. 1 on his jersey this season: He’ll also have a captain’s patch.

Four months after saying he wanted to be a team captain, Newton was one of six players selected for the honor, Panthers coach Ron Rivera announced Thursday.

Newton, second-year middle linebacker Luke Kuechly and center Ryan Kalil join three players with previous experience as captains – wide receiver Steve Smith, left tackle Jordan Gross and linebacker Thomas Davis.

Smith and Gross, the team’s longest-tenured players, received what Gross called “automatic bids” for their service and leadership. Rivera, who referred to Gross and Smith as “team captain emeritus,” had players vote on four other players.

Newton’s development as a leader has been a continuing topic among NFL observers, and Rivera said seeing Newton picked by his teammates was a major step.

“I think it’s significant because it’s talking about his growth and I’ve been asked that question all through training camp, OTAs and minicamp,” Rivera said. “This is part of his growth. He continues to step up and show leadership abilities.”

But Smith believes too much is made of the captaincy, particularly where it concerns Newton and his qualifications.

“Just because you have a ‘C’ on your jersey does not give you the authority to not practice hard, or because you don’t have one means you don’t want to be an example and not want to lead,” Smith said. “The ‘C’ is an honor from your teammates that respect you. But it’s a patch. ... It’s a nice piece of jewelry on your jersey. But that’s all it is.”

Newton said this week he wasn’t worried about being a captain.

“There’s other, bigger fish in the sea right now for me,” Newton said.

Kuechly, who led the league in tackles as a rookie in 2012, said it was great to be picked by his peers.

“I think that’s the coolest thing. It’s not by anybody outside. It’s by your teammates. You earn their respect in a sense,” Kuechly said. “I’ve just got to keep playing well now and make sure everyday I come in knowing what’s going on and understanding everything.”

The Panthers had five captains last season – two each on offense and defense, and a special teams selection – but Rivera decided to go with six this year, and did not specify the number of offensive and defensive choices that players could make among their four selections.

Gross thought it was a smart way to handle it.

“I think it’s good to get some of the younger guys in there and give them a spot,” Gross said. “I didn’t know how it was going to work out this year. There was a lot made about Cam. I just want the best guys that the team feels should be representing them to be the captains.”

Rivera said the captains represented a good mix of young and old.

“We have two guys who are senior leaders who for the most part are always there. But we’ve got young guys that have the opportunity now to step up,” Rivera said. “Their teammates are looking to them to lead and they’re both at key positions. One’s at quarterback and one’s at middle linebacker.”

Among the 32 teams last season, 23 declared permanent team captains, with the rest naming them for each game. Eight teams had the maximum of six captains, including New England, Denver, Buffalo and Tampa Bay.

Rivera indicated a number of other players were qualified for the role, including tight end Greg Olsen, cornerback Captain Munnerlyn, linebacker Jon Beason, safety Charles Godfrey and defensive end Charles Johnson, who became a captain last year after Beason was injured.

Gross said he was proud to get the captain’s nod a sixth time, but agreed with Rivera’s sentiment that other players will provide a strong voice.

“Greg Olsen could get up and lead the team to a victorious comeback by a speech he could give just as easily,” Gross said. “You need a lot more than six leaders on your team to be a good team.”

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