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Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton was limited in Wednesday’s practice and did not throw during the media’s 20-minute viewing portion — same as last week.
Head coach Ron Rivera says that’s just the Panthers reverting to “the new normal” for Newton.
But what exactly does that mean?
“For the most part, he takes all of the reps that we do have slated for him,” Rivera said, explaining that those snaps might be a limited workload or a full one based on how Newton feels during his warmup and stretching with athletic trainers before practice.
Newton’s “new normal” last season, when he was recovering from offseason surgery on his throwing shoulder, ultimately meant he progressed to throwing only underneath routes and checkdowns during Thursday’s practice after not throwing on Wednesdays.
But regardless, he is a participant in other ways.
“Those (where) he’s not on the field as the quarterback, he stands behind (backup quarterback Taylor Heinicke) and he watches, and he goes through the motions of what he would do. So he’s constantly engaged.”
Rivera said offensive coordinator Norv Turner and quarterbacks coach Scott Turner are constantly in Newton’s ear providing feedback and situational troubleshooting.
Newton also communicates with teammates to tweak routes, protections and plays like he normally would as the No. 1 quarterback, even if he’s not necessarily the one throwing the ball.
“I still want to be out there every single moment,” said Newton on Wednesday.
Rivera said last week that Newton doesn’t like to take the time off, but that Newton is handling it like a veteran player would handle his scheduled days off.
“When you see certain drills that are done, you can see him going through it in his mind,” Rivera said. “You can actually see, (if a play) calls for a certain type of footwork, he’ll stand back there and practice the footwork. You do see him doing those things ...
“He’s at that point where he probably doesn’t need to throw 105 balls a day.”
Newton added drily that he calls that “working smarter, not harder.”
Shifting to accommodate
Carolina also re-signed quarterback Kyle Allen to the practice squad on Tuesday. With Heinicke sometimes throwing the bulk of practice snaps to the first-team offense on days in which Newton is limited, Allen must run the scout-team’s section of practice. That is crucial to Carolina’s defense as it prepares for opponents.
“He handled that very well,” Rivera said of Allen’s first day back since he was released from the practice squad on Sept. 10. “Both (Allen and Heinicke) have contributed, especially when your starter is down.”
Newton bluntly and succinctly told reporters on Wednesday that his surgically repaired shoulder “feels great.”
But after some soreness cropped up following Newton’s 201-yard, two-touchdown comeback performance against Philadelphia in Week 7, during which he threw 22 of his 39 passes in the fourth quarter, the coaching staff decided to limit Newton for two practices last week. Friday’s rain prevented Newton from getting his full snaps that day, he said.
Newton also opted out of attempting a Hail-Mary pass at the end of Sunday’s first half. Rivera told the Observer in the locker room after the game that after soreness that week, Newton was happy with how his shoulder felt in the first half of the game and didn’t want to risk anything with what would be a 65-yard attempt.
Rivera publicly praised Newton’s decision after the game. He also indicated Wednesday that the Panthers won’t have any problem limiting Newton as needed during the week.
Newton’s situation differs from 2017, when he was limited nearly the entire year after shoulder surgery and couldn’t even throw overhand until late in the preseason.
Newton was able to have an entire training camp and preseason in 2018 and practiced fully for the first seven weeks.
“I think the big plus is (this year) he had OTAs, minicamp and training camp to gel with these guys in the beginning of the season,” Rivera said. “And now I guess we are kind of in the situation where this is our ‘new normal.’”
Preparing for the long haul
Carolina (5-2) is taking precautions with Newton because the Panthers need him for the long haul.
Especially to power an offense that appears ready to run away with its opponents after an explosive 36-21 victory over Baltimore on Sunday.
Newton is completing a career-high 66.4 percent of his passes through the first seven games and has thrown for 13 touchdowns against four interceptions.
He also entered Week 7 having completed only one pass of over 20 yards in 14 attempts, but has since thrown deep three times, completing each.
And for fans who might still be worried about Newton’s arm?
It might be helpful to take a leaf from the book of Carolina’s opponents.
This week, for example, Tampa Bay head coach Dirk Koetter is preparing for Newton like it’s the same Newton he’s seen at least twice a year since 2015.
“Man, if he’s got a sore arm, I’d hate to see the real deal,” Koetter said, laughing, on a conference call with reporters on Wednesday morning.
“Cam’s always had a cannon. He can stand flat-footed and put that thing on a line,. ... “I’ve been in this division a long time and arm strength is probably about the 159th thing on the list that you’d be worried about with Cam.”