Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera said Friday he expects the Cam Newton of old to return in 2019.
And that Newton will be motivated.
Rivera joined ESPN’s “First Take” on Friday, during the show’s live broadcast from Bank of America Stadium, and discussed his decision to shut the franchise quarterback down for the final two games of the 2018 season, as well as how Newton is recovering from his January surgery.
His comments mirrored what he told the Observer in Atlanta during Super Bowl week.
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Rivera said Newton gave him an inspiring update when they spoke following the arthroscopic procedure.
“Coach,” Newton told Rivera, “I’ve got the mobility back.”
Newton revealed last week in the first episode of his YouTube series that he couldn’t throw the ball past 30 yards during the 2018 season.
Rivera said on First Take that Newton labored through his shoulder injury for most of the season but always told the Panthers’ staff he would be ready for Sunday. That is, until Carolina’s Week 15 loss to the New Orleans Saints, in which Newton completed 16-of-29 passes for 131 yards and an interception.
After the game, Rivera said Newton told him he could no longer play with his shoulder in that condition. Rivera then made the decision to shut the eighth-year quarterback down for the remainder of the season.
The Panthers expect Newton to be ready for training camp, and all signs appear to point to that so far. Until then, the team will do what it can to keep surrounding him with talent — and protection.
“When I first got here, our philosophy was you’ve got to protect your quarterback and you’ve got to put playmakers around him. We try to do that through the draft and through free agency. We understand that we need to protect our quarterback.
“So going into free agency, we will look at offensive linemen. Going into the draft, we’ll look at offensive linemen, but we’ll also look at playmakers. Guys who, when the ball gets in their hands, it takes the pressure off the quarterback.”
Rivera said he and GM Marty Hurney have mapped out a plan for the Panthers’ offense, defense and special teams. Part of what will help move that plan forward, though, is a motivated Newton.
The former NFL MVP also suggested on his YouTube show that he felt disrespected by any thoughts that his career was over, or that his shoulder wouldn’t recover. Rivera took this as a positive sign.
“Cam feels challenged,” he said. “And any time he’s felt challenged, he’s stepped up his game.”
Carolina gets a look at some of the potential additions to its 2019 roster at the NFL scouting combine from Feb. 26 to March 3 in Indianapolis.