Scott Fowler

The faint drumbeat of trouble with Cam Newton? Panthers shouldn’t let it get louder.

Cam Newton handed off. And he pretended to throw. And he looked at a sheet of plays. And, at least according to his body language, Carolina’s franchise quarterback didn’t act like a real happy camper Tuesday at Panthers training camp.

Coming off offseason shoulder surgery – a surgery the Panthers and Newton put off until March 30 in hopes that it would not be needed – Newton got a sore arm late in the first week of training camp. The Panthers pulled him out of the final drills in Sunday’s practice, citing arm fatigue, and then they didn’t let him throw a single ball on Tuesday.

In my opinion, the team should hold Newton out of the first preseason game Aug. 9 at home against Houston, too. This continued soreness is nothing to mess with, and so what if Newton doesn’t throw a football for the next 10 days or so? Or even longer?

This is a faint drumbeat of trouble. Nothing more – at the moment. But if you’re the Panthers, you do everything you can not to let it get any closer.

Said Panthers coach Ron Rivera Tuesday of Newton after practice: “He started warming up this morning and said he still felt a little bit sore. So why push it? Why have him throw with a sore arm and make it even sorer?”

Exactly. Newton obviously is not 100 percent yet. But the Panthers have nearly six weeks until their first real game, on Sept. 10. I know he wants to play before then, but he doesn’t really have to. He could skip the entire preseason and still be OK, and that may end up being the best move. Certainly, other NFL quarterbacks have done that before and still thrived.

Rivera said on WFNZ in another interview Tuesday that if Newton did play on Aug. 9 against Houston in Charlotte that he only wanted the quarterback to hand off and throw short, quick passes. In other words, get the ball out very quickly. The best move to me, though, is to get the ball out of Newton’s hands entirely by letting him stand on the sideline. And that’s not even taking into account new left tackle Matt Kalil, who has a nagging groin injury and is supposed to be protecting Newton’s blind side.

Context from 2014

For context, let’s review how the Panthers handled Newton in the 2014 preseason. That was the last time he was coming off a fairly major offseason surgery – an ankle, in that case.

Newton did not play the first preseason game. Then he did play in the second and in the third exhibitions, throwing nine passes in the first game and 12 in the second. Even with that limited schedule, Newton got hurt again on a 7-yard run in the third preseason game. New England Jamie Collins broke Newton’s rib on a tackle despite the quarterback wearing a flak jacket. That meant Newton had to sit out Week 1 that year before returning to start 14 of 16 games.

This isn’t about toughness. We all have seen Newton exhibit that, time and again. He played the last three games of last season with the same partially torn rotator cuff in his shoulder that required the offseason surgery. It hurt, and Newton gutted it out. By the season finale, he was floating balls he usually lasered into receivers, and he had given up on making his traditional first-down signal altogether.

When asked last week why he didn’t appear to be enjoying himself in the final games last season, Newton said “the main reason why the fun was not where it needed to be” was “I was not healthy.” He then showed up to this training camp in what looks to be the best shape of at least the past several years.

Not ‘alarming,’ Olsen says

Newton is the Panthers’ most important player, and their most expensive one. For this team to go to the playoffs instead of going 6-10 again, he has to be healthy and effective. I would take some first-week rust in any day over another preseason injury.

Said tight end Greg Olsen, Newton’s most reliable target over the course of the quarterback’s career, of the quarterback: “I don’t think anything going on with him getting some rest – or him getting some throws off – is alarming by any means. ... I think it’d be the same thing for the major-league pitcher coming back. You don’t just go out there and go rag-arm and just start throwing it all over the gym. ... All things are just getting him ready for the opener in San Francisco, that’s what this is about.”

Football has always been a mix of violence and caution. Quarterbacks wear red jerseys in practices so they won’t get hit. And then, in the real games, the opposing defense tries to nearly behead them and still sometimes isn’t penalized for it (see Newton’s Week 1 game vs. Denver last season).

There’s no need to risk anything more than you have to with Newton right now. It will disappoint some fans with tickets to the first preseason home game, but they’ll understand. Newton should not play against Houston.

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