By now, most people have heard about Cam Newton’s record-breaking debut as a rookie QB with 422 yards, 1 TD and 1 INT. Although the Panthers were unable to win last game, it left fans with the hope that maybe there will be a little more than meets the eye this season. Here is a short list of tell-tale signs that Cam is moving in the right direction.
The first is attitude. A lot of people were afraid that the games being too much fun for Cam might be a distraction against learning the game and performing at an NFL level. At the latest, this should have been proven false after his first drive of the last preseason game against the Steelers. The amount of time Cam has dedicated to learning the playbook during the lockout, getting to know his team in the short offseason, the weeks-in and weeks-out of extra practice to tighten his mechanics, all are part of a winner’s mentality. Maybe it was the fact that he was being bombarded by defenders all game, but the infamous smile rarely appeared in Arizona. In fact the after-game footage showed him with an expression of almost disgust at the loss of the game. Despite the loss, I would think he could understand the magnitude of what he accomplished and that a win in week one is merely a bonus for a rookie QB. To me this shows an “eye of the tiger” quality that may ignite some more pleasantly unexpected surprises from Cam in what is said to be the toughest schedule in the NFL.
The second thing is leadership. On more than one occasion Cam has shown a poise about his playing that puts the fans at ease knowing that he is controlling what happens on a pass play. Also take into account that offensive line weaknesses lead to Cam being forced out of the pocket several times and caused him to make a few off-balance passes. Not only did he complete some of these passes, but at points in the game you could see him actually directing traffic a little when the play broke down. Still, I can’t say that he made all the right decisions at the right times and those moments will happen in a rookie season. However, leading a drive to the 11 yard line in the final minute of the game shows that he is trying to give his team a chance to win. In the last few years with Moore, Clausen and even Delhomme, when given that same opportunity, they were hard pressed to even get across the 50. Cam did it in his first regular season game as an NFL quarterback. He’s got the leading role, now he wants to play the part.
The third element and most crucial element, making the plays. Either that or getting the ball to the play makers. With Steve Smith’s 178 receiving yards last Sunday, you could say that Cam is starting to get the gist of how they do things in Carolina. The point is, Smith is the heart and soul of the Panthers organization. The fire and intensity he brings to the field is enough to fuel an entire ball club in it’s darkest hour as long as they are still fighting. When Smith gets the ball, special things happen. From him making a play after the catch or the play coming to him, either way the Panthers’ chance of victory increases exponentially if he has his hands on the ball.
Now, back to Cam. Although a big part, Smith is only one element of the offense. As a QB in Carolina, one has many weapons there at his disposal. If it’s not in the running game, it’s with the TE’s or the receivers. Cam threw 8 completions of 20 or more yards in Arizona. Smith had several of them for 178 yards, Brandon LaFell got 70 yards from 4 passes, Greg Olsen got 78 from 4 passes, and Jeremy Shockey got 51 yards from 3 passes. Legadu Naanee was the only receiver that didn’t put up big numbers, but even he caught 1 pass for 21 yards. Talk about shortening a field in a hurry.
I consider more than just mechanics, accuracy and NFL offensive knowledge in my calculations of Cam Newton and his potential. When you go back and look at the footage of some of the best games in Panthers history, the team was always driven by something you can’t read on a stat sheet. There’s no other real way to describe this “X factor,” but the name Cardiac Cats sums it up just nicely. The best possible QB fit for the Panthers may not be a methodical Tom Brady or Peyton Manning type, but more of a scrappy, tough personality type with a gun for an arm. If Cam continues to progress in these areas, I believe the rest will come along in time to see the Panthers into the playoffs by next season.