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Sorensen: Is Cam Newton the right guy to lead Carolina Panthers?

By Tom Sorensen - Staff Columnist
tsorensen@charlotteobserver.com
Tom Sorensen
Tom Sorensen has been a columnist at The Observer for 20 years and has been at the paper for 25, writing about nearly every sport in the Carolinas.
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DAVID T. FOSTER III - dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com
To blame quarterback Cam Newton for Carolina’s 1-3 record this season and 14-22 record during his two-season, four-game tenure is a stretch. But it’s fair to say that despite Newton’s speed, size and arm strength he has yet to make his team competitive. It’s fair to say for the Panthers to improve, Newton has to improve.

MINNEAPOLIS Cam Newton’s passer rating is 78.4, which is 25th in the NFL, behind EJ Manuel and in front of Matt Schaub. ESPN’s more extensive Total Quarterback Rating drops Newton to 28th, behind Schaub and in front of Eli Manning.

Frustrated fans of the Carolina Panthers criticize Newton more harshly than they have since 2011, when broadcaster and former coach Jon Gruden asked Newton terminology questions he couldn’t answer during a televised Quarterback Camp segment.

To blame Newton for Carolina’s 1-3 record this season and 14-22 record during his two-season, four-game tenure is a stretch.

But it’s fair to say that despite Newton’s speed, size and arm strength, he has yet to make his team competitive. It’s fair to say for the Panthers to improve, Newton has to improve. It’s fair to say opponents might not worry when Carolina has the opportunity to mount a game-winning drive. But fans of the Panthers do.

This is Newton’s team. Quarterbacks have the ball more than anybody else and a greater effect on the outcome than anybody else. If a quarterback can’t lead, he should find a new position or a new career.

No job in sports offers the attention, adulation, scrutiny and criticism that quarterback does.

When I walk through Charlotte Douglas International Airport, I don’t see the face of Carolina linebacker Luke Kuechly or defensive end Greg Hardy representing Carolina HealthCare System. I see Newton.

When I walk through Belk, I don’t see a clothing line endorsed by receiver Steve Smith or center Ryan Kalil. I see Newton’s.

Newton is the first player the Panthers drafted No. 1. He was going to be their first franchise quarterback, which means he was going to be elite. He’s not, at least not yet. I don’t know if he gets there. But at 24, he still has the time, and the talent, to.

I talked about Newton’s critics, critics who review game-tape to find flaws.

He also has supporters. Minnesota has more than 10,000 lakes and his supporters believe he can walk on all of them. They blame a perceived lack of offensive talent for Newton’s travails.

I don’t see what they see. I see talent in the backfield and at wide receiver despite the absence of Armanti Edwards.

Neither team owner Jerry Richardson nor general manager Dave Gettleman has talked about Newton this season. In the past Richardson has strongly supported his quarterback.

Asked at training camp if Newton is the right player to build around, Gettleman paused 7 seconds before telling reporters, “Yes, he is. But now it’s time to win.”

The 7-second delay is the most famous in Charlotte sports history. I wasn’t in the room. But I thought it meant nothing. Gettleman is new to the public figure business, and in interviews he often pauses to choose the right words.

Remember how effective Newton and the offense were late last season? The Panthers won five of their last six games and in that six-game stretch averaged almost 29 points. Four times they scored 30 or more.

The offense was lively and entertaining, even with their best lineman, Kalil, injured. You sat up straight when the offense took the field. Newton threw and moved and was easily one of the top 10 quarterbacks in football.

Mike Shula was quarterbacks coach. He was promoted to offensive coordinator. He was promoted, I believe, because the Panthers didn’t want Newton to have to start over in a new offense. He knew this one. It was working.

And now it’s not.

Do you blame the player with the picture on airport walls and the clothing line?

If Jacksonville offered Carolina the No. 1 pick in the 2014 draft for Newton, would you take it?

I’d think hard and, at this juncture, say no.

But if I’m Gettleman, and see a quarterback I like in the middle of the ’14 draft, I don’t pause even seven seconds before I take him.

Sorensen: 704-358-5119; tsorensen@charlotteobserver.com; Twitter: @tomsorensen
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