Scruffy in appearance but ready for the season, Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton offered a metaphor Wednesday for what he wants out of the offense this season.
Imagine the fifth-year quarterback as a bus driver and the offense as the bus. It’s his job – despite the season-ending injury to his top receiver, the drops by Philly Brown and the lack of experience of rookie Devin Funchess – to keep the bus out of reverse.
“That when all hell breaks loose, no matter what the situation is at hand, you’ve got to find a way to keep the bus going forward,” said Newton, who hasn’t shaved in at least four weeks and has seemed disenchanted with speaking publicly most of that time. “If you hear the beep sound on the bus, that’s not a good sign. It’s up to me to get the offense to the last rectangle on the field.”
Newton’s maligned receiving group will make its regular season debut this Sunday in Jacksonville, where Newton will try to improve on his accuracy as he stated in his preseason goals.
A career 59.5 percent passer, Cam Newton has said he wants to be between 65 and 70 percent this season.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera has said after the loss of Kelvin Benjamin for the season that Carolina doesn’t want to revert to the read option, the kind of scheme that put Newton in harm’s way often his first two seasons as an NFL quarterback. Instead the team wants to keep Newton on the path of a pocket passer, a plan that got derailed last season with multiple injuries.
A career 59.5 percent passer, Newton has said he wants to be between 65 and 70 percent this season. And that’s going to start with taking more of what the defense gives him.
“Consistency is key. That’s one. Accuracy is another. And also just finding check downs. Finding completions,” Newton said of his three keys to reaching that goal. “Calling the play, it’s not like playing the (video) game of Madden. When you’ve got live bullets out there and you have (deep-) shot plays and the receiver’s open but you don’t have time to step into your throw, you have to find a completion. And that’s something that I’m maturing into, that I’m morphing into as a player.”
Newton hasn’t shown consistency in taking what the defense gives him in his four years. He said he’s improved on recognizing and identifying that safety valve on plays where he can settle for short gains rather than throwing a lesser-percentage throw deeper down the field.
That philosophy has worked for some of the best quarterbacks in the league, but it might also come out of necessity for Newton this season.
The Panthers enter this season with one of the least promising receiving groups on paper. Philly Brown, an undrafted second-year player, and Ted Ginn Jr., a career No. 3 receiver, are the starters going into Jacksonville. They’re followed by Funchess, who has dealt with hamstring issues for most of the preseason, and Kevin Norwood, who by game time will have been on the team for less than two weeks.
Philly Brown showed potential last year as an undrafted diamond before suffering from a case of the drops this preseason.
Brown showed potential last year as an undrafted diamond before suffering from drops this preseason. Wednesday he said that was behind him.
“Those are things that come and go,” Brown said. “Especially I’m more mentally strong than a lot of people. Stuff like that can just bounce right off me.
“I know the team has confidence in me. They saw me do it all last year, and they see me do it every day at practice, coming out and working hard with everybody else. I know everybody has confidence in me. It feels good to have the head guy on your side and obviously the quarterback on your side.”
Because of Funchess’ health issues, he hasn’t been able to work much with Newton. They had their ups and downs in training camp, and Funchess didn’t catch a pass from Newton in any of the four exhibitions.
“Now he has a lot of ground to make up, and that’s partly why he’s not starting,” Rivera said. “The young man hasn’t had the opportunity to build himself up to that position. Hopefully he’ll earn it in the next few weeks and we’ll go from there.”
Without that talent and experience at receiver, it’s up to Newton to find high-percentage throws.
Rivera has preached to the team about “handling the what ifs.” What if injuries happen? Or what if a defender does something on the field they didn’t see on tape?
Ultimately, Newton said, he just has to find a way to win.
“I don’t know what was lacking in my game, but whatever it was hopefully that’s out the window.
“I play the game to win the football game. That’s whether I play good or I play bad. I play this or I play that. I’m trying to find ways to win football games for this organization and myself and for this team.”
Panthers at Jaguars
1 p.m. Sunday