T here’s no question Cam Newton misplayed many of his media appearances early in his career. The quarterback didn’t handle losing well, and his mopiness that accompanied the Panthers’ struggle to win was not a good look.
But about midway through his second season, Newton changed. No matter how dumb the question or how monotonous the topic, he answered with his head up, eyes open and in sentences that lasted longer than three seconds.
While we oftentimes make too much of how players and coaches interact with the media, Newton’s struggles and subsequent improvement were truly relevant.
NFL quarterbacks have responsibilities that go beyond the field, and while image isn’t everything, being the face of a franchise requires a certain amount of media savvy.
Newton stayed inside to rehab Wednesday, but after the Panthers had finished their OTA practice, he spent nearly 15 minutes talking to a group of local media for the first time since late April.
It was his best press conference since coming into the league.
Here’s seven reasons:
1. He stood up for his much-maligned made-over receiving corps.
As charismatic as Newton is, he sometimes struggles to get his point across properly. He mixes up analogies and botches clichés, but his annoyance was perfectly clear when talking about the criticism heaped on the Panthers’ receivers this offseason.
“The elephant in the room has already been stated. You don’t need to go in there and tell those guys, ‘Hey, you’re projected to be the sorriest receivers in the NFL.’ We already know.”
Newton has always said the right things about teammates, but this was different. This was more than a guy standing at a podium saying what he’s supposed to say.
“It’s like a slap in not only their faces, but my face as well. The things that they’re saying is the utmost disrespect. It’s actually as if you’re being picked up from the street and saying, ‘Hey, you want to play receiver?’ But we accept the challenge. We have fun with it. That’s our chip on our shoulder. That’s the Panther way. Not having the silver spoon in our mouth.”
2. He was honest about the pain he’s still feeling in his ankle after offseason surgery.
Newton, like head coach Ron Rivera, did leave the door open for an early return to the field at next week’s minicamp. But that’s unlikely and unnecessary, especially considering the fact he wants to feel completely healed when he comes back.
“Some days I wake up and I’m like, ‘Ok, I’m 100 percent.’ And as I’m walking to work and hit one stone, and it twists the wrong way, you’re always reminded — humbly reminded — that, ‘Oh my God, it hurts.’ It’s always something that reminds you that you’re still not 100 percent, but that’s even added juice to keep going to push to say, ‘I need to get back as soon as possible.’”
3. He truly sounded like a leader.
Even though the quarterback is technically the leader of the offense, it wasn’t quite that way with Newton his first three years. As big as he may have been outside the locker room, Steve Smith and Jordan Gross had larger presences inside it. With the two longest-tenured Panthers no longer there, Newton appears more comfortable with fully embracing an escalated role.
“I’ve got a lot of new guys that are new to this offense, so my leadership has to rise, and I have to accept this challenge … My job is to be the best leader so that when I go in that huddle and look at everybody specifically, they have no doubt in their minds that Cam Newton is going to lead us down and get six points.”
4. He explained that his off-the-field friendship with rookie receiver Kelvin Benjamin isn’t just a quarterback trying to play leader.
Newton was asked why it was important for him to invite Benjamin to Atlanta over Memorial Day weekend. It was a reasonable question, but it seemed like Newton didn’t understand why he was asked about hanging out with a friend.
“It wasn’t important for me. It’s like … the opportunity presented itself.”
5. He revealed a new nickname for the Panthers’ first-round pick.
“Me and Benji have connected in ways, some good. He always finds a way to mention Florida State, that’s the bad … It’s nothing for us to go get something to eat. It’s nothing for us to hang out and talk about life issues, as well as on the field issues as well. We’re in here together. We’re teammates now, but our relationship goes farther than the field.”
6. He essentially laughed off speculation he’s worried about his future contract.
Newton’s a former No. 1 pick who’s started three years. 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who’s had more postseason success, has started a year and a half. Is it a surprise Newton would expect more money when he eventually signs a new deal?
A report Tuesday said as much, along with claiming the team-friendly contract Kaepernick signed last week “really scares people who know Cam Newton very well.”
“Who’s terrified? Nobody’s terrified. I’m not terrified of nothing.”
The NFL Network report also said Newton’s side and the Panthers haven’t started talking yet. Well, yes, none of this will be close to decided until after next season. Newton could have a fantastic year. He could have an awful year. He could get hurt. There are so many factors we won’t know for at least seven months, speculating seems silly.
“My job is to be 100 percent and to get my body as close to 100 percent as possible. I’m not worried about anything. I’m excited about what Colin Kaepernick has done because he’s a friend of mine … For me, that’s the last thing on my mind.”
7. He revealed a new nickname for his ankle.
“First thing is trying to get little ankie right. I’m not worried about no money … For me, being a Carolina Panthers quarterback, my obligation is to be 100%. No limping, no gimping, no grimacing or nothing come time for me to be on that practice field.”
- “It’s like a slap in not only their faces, but my face as well.” – Cam Newton
- “Who’s terrified? Nobody’s terrified. I’m not terrified of nothing. – Cam Newton
- “First thing is trying to get little ankie right. I’m not worried about no money.” – Cam Newton