Newton earns teammates respect
By Mike Cranston
CHARLOTTE — Cam Newton sweated through a workout with his new Carolina teammates Wednesday morning, hopped a flight to Washington to meet the president in the afternoon, then quickly returned to make sure he attended the final player-organized workout Thursday.
As the Heisman Trophy winner prepares for the scrutiny of being the NFL’s No. 1 overall pick, his work ethic, fitness and willingness to fit in are impressing his veteran teammates.
“He showed up every day early. He’s working hard,” Panthers linebacker Jon Beason said Thursday. “He’s interacted well and he’s shown some great leadership.”
Newton is making the best of an offseason like no other because of the lockout.
He can’t talk to Carolina’s new coaching staff. He’s forced to learn the playbook on his own. He doesn’t have a contract. It’s uncertain if top receiver Steve Smith will be his teammate. There is no indication how long of a preseason there will be.
And yet Newton is considered the key to whether the NFL-worst Panthers can contend.
Newton, who led Auburn to the 2010 national title with a dazzling 50-touchdown season, is upbeat and confident even as he acknowledges the NFL is not college football.
“Preparing as a quarterback in the NFL is completely different,” he said. “The terminology, the blitz schemes, and at the end of the day, you’re not playing freshmen anymore. You’re playing grown men. This where speed comes into play at all times.”
Newton was able to get a playbook and meet with Carolina’s coaches the day after the first round of the draft, when the lockout was temporarily lifted. He said offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski gave him some “focus points.” He’s also met with last year’s starter, Jimmy Clausen, to compare notes.
Clausen and free-agent QB Matt Moore also attended the workouts the past two weeks at a Charlotte high school.
“I think I’ve got a grip on who we are as an offense, what Coach Chudzinski is trying to do,” Newton said.
Newton believes the Panthers, who managed 16 offensive touchdowns in going 2-14 last season, can turn things around, even if he’s not about to make any bold declarations about beating out Clausen for the starting job. Newton called the talent the offense has displayed at the eight days of workouts “something to be scared of.”
“We can maximize everybody’s potential in this offense,” he said.
Carolina’s chances to get out of the NFL basement would seemingly be better if Smith stayed. The four-time Pro Bowl receiver, who has two years left on his contract, has hedged on whether he wants to return.
Smith said Monday he’s been skipping the workouts that have drawn about 50 players a day because of his wife’s ill health. But while Smith wasn’t present Thursday, Newton said he did show up earlier in the week.
“To some degree, he’s on a different level. I told him this,” Newton said. “When I throw a three-step drop or an out-route, I’ve got to get back real fast to get it to him extremely quick because he’s that explosive as a player.”
It’s the same attribute the Panthers expect from their new QB. They are gambling that Newton, who played only one season of major college football in a spread offense, will become the franchise quarterback they’ve never had.
Newton’s chiseled 6-foot-5 frame stood out as he wore shorts and a T-shirt without sleeves on Thursday morning, the only day reporters were allowed to attend the workouts.
Newton was one of the first players on the field before 8 a.m. He caught some punts before lobbing some passes. Left tackle Jordan Gross said Newton has won several conditioning contests.
“Cam has really just come in and kind of kept quiet,” Gross said. “He had fun with the guys and tried to fit in and earn respect and doing things right. He’s thrown some great passes, gotten under center, been vocal with his cadence when we’ve done our team offense stuff.
“Overall, he’s just shown he’s in shape and willing to work hard.”
Newton showed no fatigue from his day of traveling. He attended a celebration Wednesday at the White House with his old Auburn teammates for winning the national title in January, talking briefly with President Barack Obama.
“The secret service wouldn’t let us get too close to him,” Newton said. “It was, ‘Hey, how are you?’” and you were out. But it was awesome being in his presence.”
Then Newton quickly headed back to Charlotte. There was more work to do, more bonding with teammates, more studying.
“Everything has been great,” Newton said. “We’ve been getting excellent participation from the team. We’re just out here every single day trying to do the best that we can with the material that we do have to try to learn and comprehend.”