Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton’s shoulder surgery earlier this month brought an enormous sense of relief to both him and head coach Ron Rivera.
Not only did the arthroscopic scope provide clarity on the nature of the injury itself, there is already marked improvement in Newton’s shoulder health, according to Rivera, who spoke exclusively with the Observer over breakfast on Thursday morning in Atlanta.
“I was there on one of his recovery days when (Newton) was working out with (head athletic trainer) Ryan Vermillion,” Rivera said. ”And one of the things he did say was that he has gotten a lot of range of motion back. So that was exciting to hear.”
Rivera said that the arthroscopic procedure, Newton’s second surgery since March 2017, was as minimally invasive as possible. The idea was to clean out excess scar tissue that was affecting Newton’s range of motion and to, with the scope, literally see where any problems were — because through the season, Rivera said, there was no clear way to know what was going on.
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“He’d say that when he’d load up the throw, he’d feel a tug or a pull,” Rivera said. “So he knew something was wrong. But we didn’t know exactly what.”
Newton was frustrated with the lack of clarity, as were coaches and doctors, Rivera said. Newton opened up about his injury in November, expressing his disappointment that after trying “everything” possible to get his shoulder feeling better, there was still no change in its status — either for better or for worse.
Rivera said Thursday that Newton was especially concerned about his performance against Tampa Bay in Week 13, when feeling a lack of full range of motion and dwindling “zip” on the ball. He threw four interceptions, and expressed his despair privately.
“Everything came up just a touch short (on his throws). After that game, I really worried about him,” Rivera said. “But I’d come see him and talk to him the next day, and from the depths of despair he’d come back up and was so positive. And that’s him, that’s his personality.”
But there was still no relief, and adjustments Newton made through the year brought little success, he told Atlanta radio station 680 The Fan this week as the city prepares to host Super Bowl LIII on Sunday.
“It didn’t matter how much I would grind, how much I would muscle up and try to throw it, it wasn’t going far,” he said. “You’re looking at your arm thinking, ‘Geez, Louise, what is really the issue?’
“I knew something was wrong. For me, being in that position, I didn’t want to let my team down. I didn’t want to let my fans, or even myself down to a degree. There’s a benchmark that you set for yourself, and when it’s not met, you’re frustrated.”
Rivera said he and Newton sat down and talked again after the Panthers lost to New Orleans in Week 15.
“And boy, I could really feel how frustrated he was,” Rivera said. “Because we didn’t know, nobody knew.”
The Panthers decided to sit Newton for the final two games of the season, and knew they had to develop a concrete recovery plan for his throwing arm. The problem was, there was still so much gray area about the nature of the problem itself.
“And I think people began to realize that the only way to know was to do a procedure,” Rivera said. “And I think that’s what happened at the end, when the season was over and everybody sat down and talked about it. Everybody felt that it was the best direction — do the procedure, find out exactly what it was. It was really positive, the outcome.”
Carolina’s staff is optimistic that Newton will fully rehabilitated by training camp, and will give him the time he needs through the spring. They’re also relieved to have an answer for the problem that put him on the injury report since Week 8.
Newton also sounded relieved in his radio interview.
“It’s good. It’s better than I thought it would be,” Newton said. “There was so much going on throughout the season. I was in fear, in fear to see what actually was wrong.”