Cam Newton is the reigning MVP and was voted the league’s top player by his peers in an NFL Network poll.
But the Carolina Panthers’ sixth-year quarterback still has things he can improve on.
Just ask his employer.
Newton said Jerry Richardson has implored the strong-armed quarterback to improve his accuracy on some of the shorter throws that defenses often concede. Newton started to refer to the team’s owner and founder as “Coach Richardson” on Friday before correcting himself.
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“As Mr. Richardson says, the layups. The gimme throws,” Newton said. “I always ask for brutal honesty from the superior forces that are in my life, from coach (Ron) Rivera to Mr. Richardson to Mr. (Dave) Gettleman and from my father.
“You hear it often: Yeah, you can throw the comebacks and the digs. But what about the checkdowns and slants and just getting back to the small nuances of the game? That makes big differences.”
In his first public comments of training camp, Newton talked about how – throughout a hectic offseason that included the taping of his new Nickelodeon show – he looked forward to returning to Wofford and building on the Panthers’ NFC championship season of 2015.
“Just the excruciating offseason with traveling and being here, being there, making family time. Doing something I’ve never done with the TV show. From the partnerships and things that you already have to do contractually, I couldn’t wait,” he said.
“Knowing I could have all my focus on Spartanburg and the Carolina Panthers ... I’ve been counting the days just to get back with the guys.”
Newton arrived at camp sporting a blonde goatee and an oversized straw hat with a frayed brim.
While some teammates joked with Newton about his new look, wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin was complimentary.
“Swag, man,” Benjamin said. “That’s Cam. He’s a trendsetter.”
Newton is coming off a remarkable season in which he threw for 3,837 yards and a career-high 35 touchdowns and finished with a 99.4 passer rating, which also was a career best.
Newton’s 59.8 completion percentage was nearly identical to his career percentage (59.5), a statistic he could boost by connecting on more of the gimme throws Richardson mentioned.
Newton tossed a career-low 10 interceptions in 2015, but has set a personal goal for camp: He doesn’t want to let linebackers Thomas Davis or Luke Kuechly intercept him.
Kuechly nearly picked off Newton early in the first camp practice Thursday night. But Newton brushed off the poor throw to complete several long passes, including several to fans sitting on the grassy bank beyond the end zone at Gibbs Stadium.
Rivera liked Newton’s energy – and his accuracy.
“I thought he looked good. I thought he threw some really nice balls. I thought he threw some of those sideline routes about as good as anybody, especially throwing from the far hash,” Rivera said. “He was on the money.”
Late-night workouts and gummy worms
Newton spent much of the offseason working on his Nickelodeon children’s show, “All In with Cam Newton.” Friday’s episode features Michelle Obama, a segment that was taped in May at the White House.
The production schedule often made for some late nights for Newton, who would look for high schools and private gyms in L.A. and elsewhere to reserve for his workouts.
“The thing that was probably the hardest was finding places. Getting done at 9 and 10 o’clock at night and then being on set eating gummy worms and chips. There weren’t too many places open. But we found ways,” Newton said. “Seclusion was probably the hard part.”
Newton had no interest Friday in reliving last season – be it the 15-1 regular season and MVP campaign or the 24-10 loss to Denver in Super Bowl 50 in Santa Clara, Calif.
Newton, who was widely criticized for sulking through his post-game press conference, said only he’d learned from the Super Bowl experience.
“I can’t just sit up here and spill out my heart with things that I learned,” he said. “But I’m a better person from it. Just know that.”
Newton said he knows the Panthers have a special group and talked confidently about spreading the ball around with the return of No. 1 wideout Kelvin Benjamin.
But the personal goals and achievements Newton wanted to discuss are those still ahead of him.
“It’s nothing about encores. It’s nothing about looking back. It’s all about living in the moment right now,” he said. “I know for a fact this has been a time I’ve looked forward to.”