Cam Newton is not broken, so new Carolina Panthers offensive coordinator Norv Turner isn’t trying to fix him.
But what Turner is attempting to do is smartly tweak Newton’s game — and it’s going pretty well so far, according to the Panthers’ quarterback.
“He’s good,” Newton said Saturday of Turner in his first extensive comments about his new coordinator since Turner was hired in mid-January to replace Mike Shula. “He’s OK. He’s Boogie Approved.”
That last line refers to Newton’s “Ace Boogie” nickname and also gives a little window into the sort of player Turner is working with in Charlotte. Newton is fun-loving, loud, charismatic and not at all opposed to referring to himself in the third person. He wants to win badly, but in his eighth season in the league he’s not fond of the idea of completely starting over.
Thankfully for Newton, Turner had no intention of doing that.
“I think the onus has been on him (Turner) more so than us to take what we’ve already done (well) and to expand on it,” Newton said. “Rather than just ripping the sheets of paper up and ‘All right, this is my way or the highway’ type of mentality. He’s been extremely easy to work with.”
Turner, 66, has coached 32 seasons in the NFL — including 15 as a head coach and 11 more as an offensive coordinator. With Dallas in the early 1990s, Turner helped the Cowboys win two Super Bowls. His son Scott Turner is the Panthers’ new quarterbacks coach.
Getting to the 60s
The Turners aren’t going to change many things about Newton. The quarterback who was the NFL’s Most Valuable Player in 2015 is still going to run the ball and will still use his big arm to throw it deep (maybe even more often).
But they would like to improve Newton’s completion percentage. Throughout his career, Newton has been known as a quarterback who can be inaccurate (often throwing too high). He also sometimes holds onto the ball too long, unwilling to throw a 5-yard pass to the flat because a 20-yarder might or might not open up in another second or two.
Newton has a career completion percentage of 58.5 and was at 59.1 percent last season. That’s below average in a league where 25 NFL starting quarterbacks completed more than 60 percent of their passes in 2017 — with New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees leading that group at 72 percent.
Norv Turner would like Newton to approach completing 65 percent of his passes, with the high 60s being a “stretch” goal. But is any of that really doable for Newton, who never has had a season percentage higher than 61.7?
“Absolutely,” Newton said. “That’s a goal of mine, and it’s certainly attainable.”
Newton said part of the issue will be that he needs to be “getting out of my own head sometimes” and also tamping down a tendency to “over-think things” in the pocket.
Continued Newton: “We’ve got a lot of talent — guys that can take a 2-yard (pass) and turn it into 20 yards. It starts with me. I have to be able to trust those guys and get the ball to them.”
‘It doesn’t work? OK, cool’
Newton wore a burgundy hat with the Panthers motto “Keep Pounding” stitched into it Saturday for his first press conference of the 2018 season. He also wore a T-shirt that read “Change the Culture,” and said that had to do with the fact that the Panthers need to “take back the division” after not winning the NFC South in either of the past two years.
Much of that, as usual, will fall on Newton’s shoulders. And his relationship with Turner — who will be calling the plays Newton is supposed to execute — will be a big part of that. It’s very early, but Newton likes what he has experienced so far.
Said Newton: “I didn’t know what to expect…. He’s not a guy who’s egotistical to say, ‘No, this play is going to work’ versus this. No, if it doesn’t work? OK, cool, let’s throw it out and find something else. ... For him to have that point of view? That’s a winning mentality.”