Ron Rivera thinks Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton is close to 100 percent.
The coach believes Newton thinks he’s close to 100 percent. But Newton, who had offseason surgery to repair his left ankle, won’t say what he believes.
“I’m not going to control the things I can’t control,” Newton said. “I’m going to do the things I know I can control, and that’s to keep coming in each day for treatment … and be as coachable as possible as well.”
Newton will play in his second exhibition Friday night against the New England Patriots, and Rivera expects Newton to play the first half.
Rivera said that, in a strange way, ankle surgery might have been the best thing for the quarterback. Just as Michael Jordan had to develop his fade-away jumper as he aged, Newton has had to develop as a pocket passer while being limited by his ankle.
“If you watch what he’s done this year compared to what he’s done the first couple of years, he’s been in the pocket,” Rivera said. “He’s had to go through his progressions, had to go through his reads.
“He’s had to stay in the pocket, had to have good footwork, had to step into his throws. I think this has been a plus for him.”
Throughout training camp – when Newton finally was able to practice during team drills – he occasionally would finish a play grimacing after having stepped on a teammate’s foot or planted incorrectly.
Newton admits there’s still pain in the ankle, but Rivera thinks Newton was one play away Sunday from learning he’s back to 100 percent.
With 8 minutes, 30 seconds left in the first half against Kansas City, Newton scrambled to his right to avoid linebacker Joe Mays. Unable to find an open receiver and unwilling to throw it away, Newton ran back toward the middle of the field where he met Mays again, this time for a sack.
“I’ll be honest with you, when he was scrambling around the other day, if he had tucked it and ran, then to me in his mind he was ready 100 percent,” Rivera said. “When he all of a sudden cuts it loose and completely lets it go, then I believe he believes. And that’ll be enough to convince me.”
The Panthers have limited Newton’s rushes during practices. Rivera said before Sunday’s game he feared Newton would improvise on the field to put his team in the best position to win.
But it might have been all of those warnings against running the ball that forced Newton to stay in the backfield.
“I think in his mind it was,” Rivera said. “I also think that he didn’t run because he was trying to get someone open. The last thing I really believe he wants to do is just throw the ball away.”
Jaylend Ratliffe met Newton on Tuesday, less than a month after Ratliffe fractured his skull in an ATV accident July 30.
Ratliffe, a dual-threat quarterback, led Scotland County High to the 4A state championship last year, and he had committed to play for Georgia Tech in 2015.
Panthers teammates and coaches had told Newton about Ratliffe’s accident, and when Newton returned from training camp at Wofford College he was able to spend time with Ratliffe at the hospital.
“For a guy who had some many high hopes in his career, I wanted to do something to keep him motivated,” Newton said. “I didn’t know what to expect walking into the room. Whether he knows it or not, his day brightened my day with me seeing him and his attitude and me having a chance to talk to him and his father.
“For him to have gone through everything he’s gone through, my talk to him was if you can make it through this, the sky’s the limit. He’s motivated me to not complain, not to bicker, not to take anything for granted, but just accept each and every day and try to make the most of it.”
According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Georgia Tech has told Ratliffe’s mother it will honor the scholarship despite his football future being in jeopardy. The paper also reported Ratliffe still has to have brain surgery to put parts of his skull that have been removed back into place.
Linebacker Chase Blackburn (back), defensive end Charles Johnson (hamstring) and strong safety Roman Harper (turf toe) will not play against the Patriots. Right tackle Nate Chandler (knee) and right guard Trai Turner (groin) also will not play, and Garry Williams and Chris Scott will start in their place.
Cornerback Melvin White (back) will play. Backup offensive lineman Kevin Matthews (knee) will not play. Rookie safety Tre Boston (groin) won’t play Friday, but Rivera expects him back on the practice field Sunday.
Tight end Mike McNeill (knee) and running back Darrin Reaves (knee) will be game-time decisions.