The Carolina Panthers’ training camps every year are full of “Cam being Cam” moments: 50-yard throws; random photo bombs; playing with fans’ kids; trash-talking his own defense.
As Panthers quarterback Cam Newton enters his eighth NFL season, all of that will unfurl once again when the Panthers hold their first practice Thursday night. Newton has seemed as hyped as ever in the weeks preceding this camp.
“It’s just nice to see him be Cam and have a lot of life and have a lot of energy and enthusiasm,” Panthers tight end Greg Olsen said Wednesday as the players reported for their first team meeting. “When he’s like that, he’s at his best.”
In theory, even with a new offensive coordinator, this should be a far less complicated preseason for Newton than the one he had in 2017. Last year, he threw a total of two passes in four preseason games — it was nothing more than a Cam cameo. Newton was returning from offseason rotator-cuff surgery on his throwing shoulder, and that necessitated a “hurry up and wait” approach throughout camp.
Newton threw the ball in July 2017 during the team’s first five practices, then suffered arm fatigue and didn’t throw in live drills at all for almost two weeks. He also missed participating in the run-up to the 2017 training camp itself while rehabbing his shoulder — the minicamps and organized team activities that lay the foundation for the chemistry between quarterbacks and their targets every year.
Given all that, it wasn’t a great surprise that Newton fired more interceptions (16) last season than he had in any season except for his rookie year. The Panthers still went 11-5 and made the playoffs and Newton ran the ball more effectively than ever, but it was far from his best overall season.
‘He’s ready to rock’
This offseason has been far better for Newton from a football standpoint. Newton has obviously enjoyed updating his Instagram account with various photos and videos of his rigorous workouts, including one shirtless photo showing off his six-pack of abs. He recently posted another picture of himself with a stack of gambling chips that he captioned: “I’m BETTING EVERYTHING on ME!”
“He’s ready to rock,” wide receiver Devin Funchess said of Newton, and he would know. Funchess wasn’t able to get to Baltimore for the annual workouts Newton hosts there for his receivers, so instead he and Newton made a deal where Newton came to throw to Funchess in Miami and Funchess returned the favor by going to Atlanta to work out some more with his quarterback.
Newton is also adjusting to a new offensive coordinator in Norv Turner, who would like to raise Newton’s career completion percentage of 58.5 into the 60s this season.
Said Christian McCaffrey, who caught 80 passes for Carolina last season as a rookie: “I think they (Turner and Newton) have really bonded and done well together this offseason as far as I’ve seen. Cam’s been throwing it really well, he’s been making great reads and I think he’s just as excited as anybody for the season.”
‘Understatement of the year’
It has been an active offseason for Newton, and we haven’t even mentioned yet that he and longtime girlfriend Kia Proctor welcomed into the world their third child together.
Newton, the 2015 NFL Most Valuable Player, hasn’t spoken to the media yet in Spartanburg and often doesn’t for the first few days of camp. But on Instagram he declared “Next stop, Spartanburg” and “You know I’m ready” in a recent video.
“I think that’s the understatement of the year to say that him being out there makes a big difference, right?” Olsen said Wednesday. “Just his presence. ... So having a full OTAs and minicamp with him and then getting some work done with him this summer and just seeing how good he’s feeling and moving around and training and throwing a lot, and now being able to do a full training camp — those are all stark contrasts with where we were at this point last year. One would hope that that’s a good sign for us.”
Panthers coach Ron Rivera certainly hopes so. Rivera and Newton both joined the Panthers in 2011 and have been inextricably linked ever since. They have combined for four playoff appearances in the past five years, but they have never achieved the ultimate goal of a Super Bowl victory together.
Last season Newton was also handicapped by a receiving corps that was injury-plagued and just plain not good enough. There were too many times when Newton dropped back and every receiver was blanketed, and general manager Marty Hurney tried to work on that problem this offseason.
“I thought you saw a lot of energy out of our offense in minicamp,” Hurney said. “You just don’t know, but you want to see it come together.”
Rivera echoed that sentiment about Newton.
“What I’m really excited about is he seems to be healthy — a lot more healthy than he was last year,” Rivera said. “So going into this camp, I think we’re already ahead with him.”