One month removed from the Carolina playoff loss to Seattle, Cam Newton feels as good as he has in more than a year.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera said Thursday at the NFL scouting combine he met with his franchise quarterback last week, and Newton told him he has healed from his many ailments.
“He said for the first time in a long time he feels very, very good,” Rivera said. “His ankle, the one he had surgically repaired, he feels really good about that. The ribs don’t bother him. The back doesn’t seem to bother him.”
Newton is healthy just in time to start his offseason workout program, but that’s not all he’s doing in the offseason. Newton, entering his fifth season with the Panthers, is back at Auburn, where he’s finishing his sociology degree, and Rivera said Newton is planning to graduate at the end of the semester.
He’s also been traveling since the 31-17 loss to the Seahawks. Newton went to New York three weeks ago, made his annual trip to the Super Bowl two weeks ago and did a photoshoot with 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick last week.
That busy schedule, which also includes regular work with his foundation, doesn’t worry Rivera, though. Rivera believes Newton can juggle football, school work and his other obligations.
“Just listening to him talk about the plan he wants to implement, we feel very comfortable and confident that he’s going to get that done,” Rivera said. “He’s done a great job.
“Last year was a little bit of a red herring in terms of getting the surgery and then trying to come back and being ready to go. That slowed him down. But knowing that he’s feeling good about himself health-wise going forward, talking about things he wants to do, you feel very comfortable.”
Newton, who’s set to make $14.67 million this season and has yet to reach a long-term deal with the team, had offseason ankle surgery last March and missed the start of training camp. He suffered cracked ribs in the third exhibition and missed the first game of the season. He clearly wasn’t 100 percent healthy midway through the season, and a car wreck in December fractured his lower back.
Now that he’s healthy, Newton can focus on football rather than treatment, Rivera said.
“I’m very happy for the young man because last year I thought he took a very big step in the second half of the season,” Rivera said. “We did some things offensively, a little bit different than we had done earlier in the year. We felt he was healthy and strong enough to do those things, and (offensive coordinator) Mike (Shula) and the offensive staff implemented those plans and I thought they showed very well. I thought he handled the situation very nicely and he’s going to continue in his growth as we go forward.”
The Panthers ran more of their no-huddle offense late in the season, and Newton thrived in that system. Carolina was hamstrung because of injuries across the offensive line, but once the line solidified, the Panthers’ offense clicked in the faster-paced offense.
Rivera has indicated that though the Panthers won’t primarily be an up-tempo, no-huddle offense, they will utilize it more in 2015.
Newton has also talked with pass catchers Kelvin Benjamin, Corey “Philly” Brown and Greg Olsen about getting together in the offseason and working on timing. Newton will likely again fund a trip to Greensboro to work at receivers coach Ricky Proehl’s facility with teammates ahead of training camp.
“We took a step last year and I think the guys see that these are the things we need to do to take the next step,” Rivera said. “They’re taking the initiative to do these things. I think that’s one of the things that’s being a part of his growth as far as being a leader on the football field.”