The best thing Panthers head coach Ron Rivera could see Friday night is something he doesn’t want to see.
If quarterback Cam Newton takes off on a scramble in the Panthers preseason game against the Patriots, Rivera believes that would be the sign Newton feels his surgically repaired ankle is 100 percent.
“I’m going to yell at him because I want him to get rid of the ball. But if he runs, he runs,” Rivera said after Thursday morning’s walkthrough. “He’s gotta do what he’s gotta do to protect himself. He’s gotta do what he’s gotta do to make plays. So if he runs, then I think it’s a great sign.”
After undergoing surgery in March, Newton was relegated to mostly watching his teammates go through summer workouts. It was like a kid not being allowed to go to summer camp. He participated fully nearly every day during training camp in Spartanburg, but the Panthers held Newton out of their preseason opener.
In his 2014 debut Sunday against the Chiefs, he scrambled a bit, but he never went past the line of scrimmage. That’s his next big step. Once he uncorks a cut-filled run, the pre-surgery Newton will be back. And so will be the guy who often delivers hits instead of avoiding them.
“I’m not a sliding type of guy,” Newton said with a smile. “I get down the best way I know how. I really wasn’t good at baseball.”
During his first three seasons, Newton took a number of hits that would injure most quarterbacks. He’s always bounced back up, but it may be time to call in someone from Charlotte’s Triple-A baseball team.
“That might be the next step, see if one of the Knights guys will be able to show him. Or bring out one of those Slip ‘N Slides,” Rivera joked.
Perhaps someone else from one of the Panthers’ neighbors could help as well, but not necessarily with sliding.
“(Hornets owner) Michael Jordan used to go to the hole all the time and dunk. But if you ask Michael, he realized that later in his career, he had to develop that jumper. So he went work at it. Cam’s the same way. He needs to develop as a passer,” Rivera said.
“In an interesting way, this may have been the best thing that happened to him in terms of his pure quarterbacking development. He’s had to stay in the pocket, he’s had to have good footwork, he’s had to step into his throws. I think this has been a plus for him.”
Improving as a passer would certainly help both Newton and the Panthers, but his biggest weapon remains his legs. And until he uses those confidently, the new Newton won’t be like the old Newton.
“I think he’s really close, and I think he thinks he’s really close,” Rivera said. “But when he all of a sudden cuts it loose and completely lets it go, then I believe he believes.”