T he Panthers were so close. They had kept an antsy Cam Newton essentially tethered to head trainer Ryan Vermillion throughout offseason workouts. But on the final day of minicamp Thursday, the quarterback broke loose.
Newton participated in 7-on-7 drills for the first time since undergoing ankle surgery in March. The team had held him out for weeks, but with one practice left until summer vacation, they put him out there.
“I think it shows everybody, the team, that he’s coming,” head coach Ron Rivera said. “Nobody expected him to be out here today, except for me, but it was good to see him out there. It was good to see his teammates see him out there.”
Newton was medically cleared to ramp up his activity Wednesday, which let Rivera and the coaching staff script three 7-on-7 periods for the fourth-year quarterback. The staff kept the plan from the rest of the players, allowing his participation to be a pleasant surprise. But perhaps it all got Newton a little too amped up.
“My mind was moving faster than my body but that comes with time,” Newton said. “I’m excited to get back out there. I’m not 100 percent yet, but any progress is good progress for me.”
Newton’s first three seasons saw him miss a lot of throws high, and he was even more so in his return. In the first two 7-on-7 periods, he finished 3-for-10. He did wrap up with a confidence-boosting 5-for-5 effort in his third series.
“He made some good decisions, made the right reads, just didn’t deliver the ball where he needed to. That will come with time, obviously,” Rivera said. “The healthier he gets, the better he gets, the more he’ll be in tune with what he needs to do.”
Newton ultimately labeled his return as “real sluggish,” but if Rivera and his staff got what they wanted out of Thursday, the quarterback’s surprise appearance sends the Panthers into their summer vacation with some valuable momentum.