The latest to weigh in on the Cam Newton hits-and-calls saga was teammate Mike Tolbert, a fullback who spends much of his time blocking for both Newton and running back Jonathan Stewart.
“It’s not only my job to protect him, it’s also the NFL’s job,” Tolbert said Wednesday. “They preach player safety and this stuff like this happens 2-3 weeks in a row. ... It’s ridiculous.”
Tolbert spoke in reference to Newton’s original tirade against officials for not calling illegal hits effectively enough for him after the Panthers’ victory over Arizona, when Calais Campbell was not flagged for a low hit later deemed illegal. Newton said he “didn’t feel safe” and that the situation was taking the fun out of the game for him.
But Tolbert’s opinion is that his quarterback is still not getting adequate protection from referees, as displayed last week in Los Angeles, even after Newton and head coach Ron Rivera spoke with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell about the matter.
“Nope. Not at all,” said Tolbert, when asked if he thought things had changed. “I mean I don’t know how to say it any better than he has. He’s getting shots – taking them high, low – and no flags on the field.
“There are players coming out and saying, ‘Quit whining. It’s football.’ But as soon as somebody chop-blocks him, or somebody’s holding, he’s crying and wanting to get a flag thrown for that. So if somebody is holding me when I’m running down on a kickoff, I want a flag. If somebody hits my quarterback in the head blatantly, I want a flag. It’s nothing different.”
Rivera confirmed that he sent a hit “in question” to the league for review after Sunday’s game against the Rams, but according to an ESPN report the NFL said both hits – one by Aaron Donald and another by Mark Barron – were legal.
“I appreciate the league getting back to me, I appreciate them responding, and we’ll just leave it at that,” said Rivera.
He advocates for full-time referees, he added.
“I think having these guys being able to work, prepare, be around the game, I think is going to help. I think it’s going to give them more opportunity to study their craft, study the opponents as they’re playing the game and get a sense for what is going on,” Rivera said.
He also mentioned hoping for a reform of the legal hit zone for quarterbacks – similar to a strike zone – and stiffer penalites for illegal hits.
“Maybe, to influence or impact players to wanting to lower the targets, maybe the penalties need to be a little bit stiffer,” he said. “Maybe if we as a league say, ‘Well, we do want to try and eliminate that, maybe the penalty has to be stiffer,’ kind of like what they do in the college game. They eject guys. ... It seems to help.”