Cam Newton — rightfully so — is the center of attention at Carolina Panthers training camp.
But so too are the players positionally related to him. Think offensive linemen, the people tasked with keeping him upright, or playmakers, the people he gets the ball to.
So what about the person he gets the ball from?
That dynamic is what makes new starting center Matt Paradis, perhaps more than anyone else on the offense, such an interesting figure this summer. Every snap, before Newton ever gets the chance to pass or run or hand the ball off, Paradis gets his hands on the pigskin first. And considering the now-retired Ryan Kalil was snapping to Newton for the first eight years of the quarterback’s career, there’s an element of uncertainty to that process which Newton’s never known before — even if coach Ron Rivera said there are similarities between the two centers.
“He’s a smart football player. Very smart football player,” Rivera said of Paradis. “I mean, he’s a technician. Uses his hands very well, just like Ryan did, and he’s got a good feel for the game.”
It all comes back to making sure your quarterback gets the ball as cleanly and crisply as possible.
It’s just ... well, there’s only so much Paradis can do to ease that transition.
Asked if the process of snapping to different QBs is complicated, Paradis let out a laugh.
“There’s differences, but it’s actually almost more that the quarterbacks have to adjust to us,” Paradis told the Observer. “I put the ball where I put the ball, and he has to be there.”
That may seem a little backwards at first, but think it through. Paradis, who the Panthers signed to a three-year deal this spring, has even less time to react at the line of scrimmage than Newton. Newton calls for the ball, and boom! — immediately, there are 300-plus pound men barreling straight at Paradis. Basically, either Newton moves his initial hand position over a few inches (at most) to accommodate Paradis ... or Paradis has to completely change his stance for blocking.
Rather, the biggest adjustment for Paradis will be getting Norv Turner’s offense down pat and learning to mesh with his fellow linemen.
“I mean, it really hasn’t been too much adjustment,” Paradis said. “I’m new to this offense, so that’s what I’m focused on: getting this offense down pat and flying around and getting after it.”
As far as getting to know the rest of that unit — tackles Taylor Moton, Daryl Williams and Greg Little, not to mention guards Trai Turner and Greg Van Roten — the team’s living situation takes care of a lot of introductions. Crammed into dorm rooms at Wofford College, there isn’t much to do except hang out with each other. Paradis said after Saturday’s practice he hasn’t experienced anything like that in years, not even back in college at Boise State.
Naturally, that cramped quarters have helped him get to know Newton straight from the jump. On the first day of training camp practice Thursday, Newton even came over and hugged Paradis before they started team drills.
Those relationships will continue to develop over the next few weeks, and Paradis and Newton’s chemistry will only grow. Which means, the last question mark left about Carolina’s prized free agent is whether he’s fully recovered from the injury that allowed the Panthers to sign him.
Paradis fractured his fibula in November of last season, leading to a months-long recovery process that spanned three different medical staffs. His rehab began immediately in Denver with the Broncos, then continued at his home in Boise, and finally transferred to the Panthers’ trainers and doctors after he signed.
“You just kind of have to jump through some extra hoops to make sure everyone is on the same page,” he said.
Previously, Broncos general manager John Elway said the team had “big concerns” about Paradis’ ability to rebound from the injury, which allowed the Panthers to ink him in free agency. Paradis said after Saturday’s practice — which he sat out for a planned veteran day — that he feels fully recovered physically. And mentally, which is more than half the battle, he’s almost there.
Being out on the field for the team’s first training camp practice Thursday, with thousands of fans in attendance, may have been the final boost he never knew he needed.
“I hadn’t touched a football or played a snap since November, and it’s like you almost forget that you can play football,” Paradis said. “So it’s great to get back out here and get after it.
“We’re just living it up.”