It’s 10:20 p.m. Wednesday after a one-hour throwing session and Cam Newton is telling his teammates in the post-session huddle to tell him if he’s messing up.
If fellow quarterbacks Joe Webb and Matt Blanchard are messing up, he wants the players to tell them.
Most importantly, he says, don’t take any criticism personally during a three-day training session in Greensboro with 13 members of the Carolina Panthers.
Newton, two other quarterbacks, nine receivers and one tight end assembled this week at Proehlific Park, owned and operated by Panthers receivers coach Ricky Proehl, to build chemistry. The Panthers will hold their first training camp practice on July 25.
Away from friends and family in Charlotte from Wednesday until Friday, these Panthers have been sequestered to familiarize themselves with one another both on and off the field. Newton has continued the pre-camp tradition started last year by receiver Steve Smith, and he’s even picking up the tab.
“This is like a brotherhood, and you need everybody in this group to go,” Panthers rookie receiver Kelvin Benjamin said. “Just a like a car, we need every part of this to keep it going.”
Of the 13 players there, no one other than Newton threw or caught a pass for the Panthers in the 2013 regular season. Newton, close to but still not 100 percent on his surgically repaired ankle, has missed nearly all of the offseason workouts while rehabbing and has not been able to throw as much as he would like with his brand-new receiving corps.
There’s a lot of catching up to do.
Bonding in Greensboro
This is the second year some Panthers players have made the pilgrimage to Proehl’s facility.
With NFL rules barring players from offseason work at the team facilities other than organized team activities and mandatory veteran minicamp, Smith saw teams around the league doing similar training sessions and asked Proehl if it would be feasible.
“Steve came up with a great idea of just getting the guys together in a place that is outside of Charlotte where they can bond and work on their craft,” Proehl said, “but also be together and get to know each other better and get to know the quarterback, get some solid work in before camp. And Cam has carried that over this year.”
The players stay at a nearby hotel for two nights and go eat together. After Smith was released this spring – and Brandon LaFell, Ted Ginn Jr. and Domenik Hixon found new homes in free agency – Newton took control of the training session.
NFL rules also stipulate coaches cannot have contact with the players. So Wednesday when players began arriving at Proehl’s 22-acre, 86,000-square-foot sports complex, Proehl went to his office before leaving for vacation.
That’s when Nate Costa got to work. Costa works at FX Studios in Baltimore and trains athletes at Under Armour, where he met Newton three years ago.
Newton invited Costa to Greensboro to workout the Panthers, and each day Costa has put them through the same stringent strength and conditioning programs he does with Newton.
“He said, ‘I want to throw to these guys,’ but he wants me to put them through what I put him through, just so they can get an experience at that,” Costa said.
“As far as the plan, for Cam it’s about building that relationship this year. He hasn’t had that kind of bond. He was a leader last year, but he’s a solo leader this year and he’s ready to step up.”
This pre-camp workout is nothing new for Jerricho Cotchery. The 11th-year receiver is in his first year with the Panthers, but he traveled to Southern California with quarterback Mark Sanchez for “Jets West” when he played for New York.
Cotchery said this week was about getting familiar with the velocity and touch on Newton’s throws. He got an idea of it on June 19 in Carolina’s final minicamp practice when Newton participated in three 7-on-7 drills.
“When he steps in the huddle you get a pretty great feeling,” Cotchery said. “I just felt the difference in that last minicamp practice. I was like, ‘OK now I see.’ ”
Getting in tune
When Newton arrived for the evening throwing session at 9 p.m., he had to get a change of music.
Family-friendly, pump-up, lyricless music was playing on the speakers at the 50-yard indoor field. He plugged his phone into the speakers and pop and hip-hop songs – unedited – bounced off the field turf.
For the next hour, Newton threw three passes, then Blanchard, then Webb, and the group jogged to the other end of the field and did it again.
Newton was more active on his dropbacks Wednesday night than he was at last month’s practice, but he still gets an occasional sharp pain on strong push-offs, Costa said.
“It’s more of a confidence thing,” Proehl said. “Once he figures out that his strength is back and he can plant and drive off that back foot he’ll be fine. It won’t take him long.”
Jason Avant finished with a burst after every catch, Cotchery showed nice, late hands on several passes and Brenton Bersin was smooth and consistent in his routes and catches. Tavarres King and Brandon Williams struggled to haul in a few passes, and Toney Clemons lost his footing several times.
Occasionally Newton paused the session to instruct, and listen to, receivers on certain routes.
He wanted to know which way they preferred to juke on a route so he could place the ball in a certain spot. Newton also jogged out to the numbers and used his arm to demonstrate a route.
“If you got a Z (route) outside, don’t get too wide,” Newton said.
At 6-foot-5 and 240 pounds, Benjamin has the most trouble with routes that force him to come back to the ball. He gets out of his cuts slower than most receivers because of his size, and he needs to work on his hips.
Newton whistled at Benjamin after one route in which the rookie flailed his arm out just before making the cut. Newton re-enacted the motion to discourage Benjamin from doing it again.
After more than an hour of pass and catch, the Panthers huddled and broke for the evening and prepared for two practice sessions the following day.
Newton declined an Observer request for an interview by saying he wanted the focus of the training to be on them.
“We’re trying to fill in the question marks, and it starts with these days,” Newton said. “No distractions.”