Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton hasn’t had a good relationship with timing as of late.
His recovery from offseason ankle surgery bled into training camp. Then he cracked his ribs just late enough in the preseason that he had to miss the first regular-season game.
His timing on the field Wednesday was off, too. In the portion of practice open to the media, Newton couldn’t connect with three receivers in the span of four throws on out routes.
First he threw high and wide to rookie Kelvin Benjamin. Then he was quick and short to Jerricho Cotchery. After a completion to Brenton Bersin, Newton missed long to Jason Avant.
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“That’s just the whole thing about playing this game, especially on the offensive side,” said Newton, who is expected to start Sunday against Detroit. “You have to get in a groove and understand where guys are going to be. Throughout the whole practice it’s been getting back on the rhythm of how each guy is going to run their route differently.”
Newton missed a half-dozen practices after suffering a hairline fracture in the Aug. 22 exhibition against New England. He did not practice last Wednesday and was limited Thursday. He did more than expected Friday, but it wasn’t enough to convince coach Ron Rivera to overrule the doctors’ suggestion to rest Newton for Week 1.
Rivera noticed Newton’s timing not being what it should for a Wednesday, which is one of the two biggest practice days leading up to game day.
“Hopefully in the next couple of days he’ll work through that, and I am concerned about it,” Rivera said. “It’s hard because he did miss a good six or seven practices in terms of that. But he has been throwing the ball on the side, he’s been working with the receivers.
“They did some extra throws today as well. I think it’s a matter of time before he gets comfortable again in the next couple of days.”
The timing might come before Newton returns to full health. He made clear he’s not 100 percent healthy, and that includes ribs and ankle.
Newton had surgery to tighten loose ligaments in his left ankle in late March. The timetable for recovery was set at four months, or the start of training camp, but he didn’t perform any rushing plays until the final week of camp.
Wednesday, Newton admitted the health of his ankle might have had to do with his injury. He awkwardly scrambled for 7 yards and went down in a heap, rolling to the ground and receiving a knee to the ribs from New England linebacker Jamie Collins on a clean tackle.
“(On) that particular play … I wasn’t 100 percent, and we knew that, everyone knew that going into that game,” said Newton, who still receives treatment for his ankle each day. “Every day it’s still a work in progress to get my ankle healthy. I didn’t feel I could outrun him to the sideline, but it’s been a move that I’ve been doing my whole career. It just happens.
“Will I do it again? You know, who knows? Coach has been working on the main focus being smart and knowing when to (go down) and when not to.”
His ribs will be protected heavily by the padding he’s worn to practice the past week. Carolina feared an accordion hit – where a player hits Newton, takes him to the ground and his body weight compresses him to the turf – would further injure his ribs.
With an extra week’s rest, though, the team believes Newton can take that kind of hit from the likes of Detroit defensive tackles Nick Fairley and Ndamukong Suh if he must.
Still, getting used to being injured is going to take some time.
“I’m still surprised (with) me being hurt for this long. This is a culture shock for me,” Newton said. “My thing is to execute the given play, execute the game plan the best of my ability. If the option is for me to make a play when I have to, I will, or I’ll put myself in the best situation to do so.
“Nothing is hindering me from playing football, and that’s the great thing for me.”