While the Panthers stretched before Saturday’s practice at Wofford, it was hot, players were wearing full pads for the first time at training camp and … Cam Newton was dancing.
Dancing is not a new development for the eighth-year quarterback, whose end-zone celebrations have included tributes to a diverse group running the gamut from his first-born child to Deion Sanders.
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Nor is Newton breaking new ground this summer by trying to keep things light as a marquee player in a league that has been derisively dubbed the No Fun League.
At various times during Saturday’s two-hour-plus practice, Newton jokingly tried to have a police officer remove an Atlanta Falcons fan from the hill overlooking the fields and later pretended to run out of gas as he neared the goal line at the end of a long run.
But don’t confuse Newton’s playfulness as a lack of commitment or devil-may-care attitude.
“A person can look it at like, aw, Cam’s dancing, Cam’s always smiling, Cam’s always joking. But it’s deeper than that,” Newton said. “It’s knowing that we’re playing in front of 70,000-plus (to) 90,000 and millions watching all across America and even international.
“Practices like today —having full pads in the hot sun — finding any and everything to make sure you’re holding yourself accountable and you’re doing something that somebody could look at you and say, ‘OK, he’s doing it and I can do it, too.’ ”
It’s been an interesting offseason for Newton, who has had no physical limitations (unlike last year when he was coming off shoulder surgery) and ended a social media silence with a barrage of early-morning posts that included some colorful language and videos of him working out.
The past couple of days, Newton’s “motivational content” has included videos of him getting in some pre-practice cardio work with defensive back Captain Munnerlyn.
“Nothing about me has changed,” Newton said. “The only thing different is that I’m just documenting it.”
One thing that has changed: Loud music, rap and dance (mostly), blaring over the loudspeakers during a good portion of practice. The Panthers have always played music during stretching, but Newton convinced coach Ron Rivera and new offensive coordinator Norv Turner to keep it cranking once drills started, too.
“Cam just asked if he could play it and coach Rivera didn’t have a problem with it. He asked my dad, and my dad was like, ‘Yeah, I don’t care,’ ” said quarterbacks coach Scott Turner, Norv’s son.
“Then the energy was good, our tempo was good, Cam was playing well. So why not? It’s funny we didn’t have it on one day and it felt weird. I got used to it.”
Newton said the music is “very important” for two reasons: It gets young players used to playing in the din of an NFL stadium and it helps break up the monotony of practice over the course of a 17-week schedule, plus four exhibitions.
“There is never a time in the game where it’s extremely quiet. … But it’s also something you can get from it,” Newton said. “Listen to the music, making the time go by a little bit faster, making sure you can focus not only (dancing) or finessing through your favorite beats or whatever, and still getting the job done.”
Newton hasn’t been all smiles throughout his career. He infamously pouted and gave monosyllabic responses during his post-Super Bowl press conference, and conceded in 2016 that football wasn’t much fun when the Panthers were losing and he was exposed to several questionable hits.
Newton said Rivera recently shared an article on the effect a person’s body language can have on the people around him.
Even as Newton creeps closer to 30 (next May) and his family grows (he and his girlfriend Kia Proctor recently welcomed another child), Rivera said he hopes he’ll keep his childlike enthusiasm.
“I think it was Joe Namath that said, let’s have a whole bunch of fun. And when you have a whole bunch of fun, you win a whole bunch of games,” Rivera said. “And that’s what I’d like to see us do.”
During his first press conference since January, Newton spoke glowingly of new owner David Tepper and Norv Turner, the third coordinator he’s played for.
When discussing Tepper, Newton smiled and said: “You see the team just sold for what it sold for, it’s like ... sheesh, I think I’m up for an upgrade; you know what I’m saying?”
With Newton signed through 2020, those contract talks can wait. For now, Newton’s looking to improve his completion percentage working with Norv Turner, “take back” the NFC South from the New Orleans Saints and continue letting the music play.
“I’m always having fun,” Newton said. “There’s never been a time that that has faltered. There’s been times when it’s been jaded a little bit. But that’s my life. And when people see me play — or (do) anything — it’s being positively contagious. Being around certain people, I hope I’m that for a person.”