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June 26, 2012

Cam Newton is 15th on Jaws' list of QBs

FcgPP.St.138Ron Jaworski puts Cam Newton in the middle of his NFL quarterback rankings, although “Jaws” believes Newton has top-10 talent.

Jaworski, the former Eagles QB and current ESPN analyst, is breaking down each of the league's starting quarterbacks on Jaws' QB Countdown – good filler during the NFL's slow season before training camps open.

ESPN unveiled Newton on Tuesday as No. 15 among returning quarterbacks. Interestingly, Newton comes in one spot ahead of San Francisco's Alex Smith, who called out Newton last month as a quarterback who racks up gaudy stats without winning much.

Jaworski, who watches a ton of film, picked up on something from the second series of Newton's debut at Arizona – the first of two 400-yard passing games that launched Newton's Rookie of the Year season.

Here is Jaworski's assessment of Newton, followed by the QBs ranked 15-30:

No one is a great quarterback in the NFL because of the way they run. While Cam Newton is certainly a spectacular athlete, that's not why he's number 15 on my big board after his rookie season. He played very well from the pocket. I saw it week one against the Arizona Cardinals. This was the second series of the game. It was 3rd and 7. Newton recognized the blitz, and he changed the protection to account for it.

I must have watched this play 15 times. The blitz was well-disguised. I saw no indicator right here that overload blitz pressure from the backside was coming. Yet Newton saw something, and he slid his offensive line to that side. One essential attribute to reach elite status is the mental ability to recognize and defeat the defense before the snap of the ball. What also stood out was Newton's patience in the pocket and his ability to sit on his back foot and cut it loose. He made seam throws that were firm and required arm strength, yet demanded touch.

Newton hung in the pocket and delivered without flinching. He was very good in the eye of the storm. This kid is a big-time talent. He still needs more experience, but the traits are there to be a special passer. It starts with passing, but his ability to break down the defense with his legs gives him an edge like few have ever had.

The read option in the red zone is an added dimension that Newton brings. His speed is a decisive factor. One element I’ve always talked about discussing Aaron Rodgers is the ability on third down to defeat the man coverage by running. Newton gives you that same quality. That's a real problem for a defense. It limits their coverage concepts. And Newton gets down, out of harm’s way.

From a skillset standpoint, Newton could easily rank higher than 15 on my big board. He's a top 10 talent. He needs more snaps. One year is not enough. But I can't wait to see him in a few months.”

No. 30

Tim Tebow, New York Jets

No. 29

Blaine Gabbert, Jacksonville Jaguars

No. 28

Christian Ponder, Minnesota Vikings

No. 27

Matt Flynn, Seattle Seahawks

No. 26

Matt Moore, Miami Dolphins

No. 25

Kevin Kolb, Arizona Cardinals

No. 24

Ryan Fitzpatrick, Buffalo Bills

No. 23

Mark Sanchez, New York Jets

No. 22

Matt Cassel, Kansas City Chiefs

No. 21

Carson Palmer, Oakland Raiders

No. 20

Sam Bradford, St. Louis Rams

No. 19

Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals

No. 18

Matt Hasselbeck, Tennessee Titans

No. 17

Josh Freeman, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

No. 16

Alex Smith, San Francisco 49ers

No. 15

Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers

Posted by Observer Sports on June 26, 2012 at 01:40 PM | Permalink | Comments (93)

June 22, 2012

Steve Smith: No need for Plaxico

Based on reader comments on this blog and undoubtedly, sports talk radio in Charlotte, there are a lot of people who believe the Panthers should sign free agent wideout Plaxico Burress.

Steve Smith isn't one of them -- at least not at the moment.

Burress, 34, has expressed an interest in playing for the Panthers because of his family in Charlotte and the team's offensive weapons, led by Smith and Rookie-of-the-Year quarterback Cam Newton.

Though Smith called Burress' an "exceptional wide receiver" during an appearance Thursday night on NFL Network’s NFL Total Access, the Pro Bowl wideout endorsed the Panthers' approach of giving their young receivers a chance to develop.

“We’ve filled our chairs in the receivers room with already a lot of guys – young and older guys. To bring in Plax [and] to let one of those guys go it wouldn’t be the coach Rivera way. The guys that are in there, they earned those chairs for right now and allowed them to go through training camp," Smith told NFL Network.

"Now, if some injuries were to happen, that would be one of the persons we would look for to look at," Smith added. "We don’t really need a guy because we also have guys – Brandon LaFell, David Gettis, [Kealoha] Pilares, [Seyi] Ajirotutu. We have some guys that are trying to make their way into the starting lineup and have a bigger role.

"Adding a guy like that would take away some of their development so I don’t really agree with it. Carolina has already come out and said they’re not interested right now, but he’s an exceptional wide receiver and can help a team. I just don’t think it’s the right fit for us right now.”

The Observer reported this week the Panthers aren't interested in Burress, who caught 45 passes for 612 yards and eight touchdowns for the New York Jets last season after spending nearly two years in prison on weapons charges.

--Joseph Person

Read more here: https://www.charlotteobserver.com/2012/06/20/3331738/panthers-wont-call-burress.html#storylink=cpy

Posted by Observer Sports on June 22, 2012 at 12:09 PM | Permalink | Comments (47)

June 21, 2012

Cam Newton goes to Washington

A week after Eli Manning and the Super Bowl-champion Giants visited the White House, Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton was on Capitol Hill on Thursday meeting with North Carolina Senator Kay Hagan about youth mentoring and educational programs.

Newton is one of 20 NFL players who went to D.C. for a United Way summit aimed at reducing the high school dropout rate. Newton accompanied a group of students from Thomasboro Academy in Charlotte to Capitol Hill.

Newton, showing off the Panthers' new Nike jersey in the photo with Hagan below, has said he plans to make youth initiatives the major focus of his charitable foundation.

--Joseph Person


Posted by Observer Sports on June 21, 2012 at 04:28 PM | Permalink | Comments (19)

June 20, 2012

Panthers not interested in Burress

Plaxico Burress wants to play for the Carolina Panthers. But the Panthers apparently don't want Burress.

Burress, the 6-foot-5 wideout who is arguably the biggest free agent still unsigned, told WFNZ on Tuesday that Charlotte is his preferred destination because of his family in the area and the Panthers' offensive arsenal.

But a team official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Wednesday the Panthers are not interested in signing Burress, who returned to the NFL with the New York Jets last season after serving nearly two years in prison on a weapons charge in New York.

Attempts to reach Drew Rosenhaus, Burress' agent, were unsuccessful.

“My brother lives right there in Charlotte, my cousin lives there in Charlotte, and all my family is there in Columbia, South Carolina. It would just be a great situation all the way around,” Burress told WFNZ.

“Not just that, but playing with Cam (Newton), who I think is one of the top five quarterbacks in all of football, and as long as I can remember Steve Smith has been one of my favorites. I just think it's a great situation.”

A pair of third-year receivers – Brandon LaFell and David Gettis – are the Panthers' top wideouts after Smith, who earned his fifth Pro Bowl berth last season.

The Panthers were interested in acquiring former Houston receiver Jacoby Jones in May before Jones signed a two-year deal with Baltimore. But Jones is younger and has less baggage than Burress, who turns 35 in August.

Burress caught 45 passes for 612 yards and eight touchdowns last season with the Jets.

--Joseph Person

Posted by Observer Sports on June 20, 2012 at 08:00 PM | Permalink | Comments (56)

June 19, 2012

Cam Newton is a natural entertainer

After listening to Cam Newton speak to groups of young players twice in the past five days, I'm thinking being an entertainer isn't necessarily a bad thing.

Newton was widely criticized for his “entertainer and icon” comment to Sports Illustrated's Peter King last year before the NFL combine. Newton's timing was wrong, suggestive that the endorsement deals and Under Armour commercials took precedent over football.

Newton clearly loves the bright lights and relishes his role as a showman. He's a natural at it.

He interacted with younger kids last week at Steve Smith's camp at Ardrey Kell High. He was funny, friendly and engaging.

But I think he made more of a connection Tuesday with high school players at the Panthers' 7-on-7 passing tournament. Newton, who is only 23, spoke to the teens at their level, mentioning how some players had “shorties” on their minds instead of football and acknowledging that “if you're great at football, they're giving money away.”

This was not a public service announcement. This was Newton giving a pep talk to a group of 15- to 18-year-olds, and he was effective.

That said, Newton's showmanship was misplaced at times during his rookie season. While there is no doubting Newton's competitive spirit and his distaste for losing, his sulking and brooding after losses early last season seemed a little overdone.

Some of Newton's teammates felt the same way, and Newton now apparently recognizes it was not the way a leader should carry himself in the locker room.

And for all his immediate success and fame, give Newton credit for putting himself out in front of kids in Charlotte, his hometown of Atlanta and elsewhere. He didn't just talk at these players Tuesdays. He slapped hands with them and had them huddled around him at the end of his speech.

Afterward, Newton said he wishes there'd been more athletes like that in Atlanta when he was growing up.

Even though there were a lot of people that came through my community that made it to the NFL or made it to stardom status, I couldn't really say I could put my hands on someone and say, 'Hey, I know this person. He just came to our school.' And that's what I'm trying to do a better job of,” Newton said.

As the status grows as an athlete, as an entertainer, whatever you want to call it, your whole relationship with your community decreases. I want that to be the opposite with me,” Newton added. “As I get bigger, as I grow and mature, as my status grows, I want my impact in the community to grow bigger. I think people have to see my face. And I want to see their face because I want to get their impact, also.”

--Joseph Person

Posted by Observer Sports on June 19, 2012 at 04:48 PM | Permalink | Comments (11)

June 15, 2012

Steve Smith to teammate: NFL is not Coastal Carolina

At his fifth annual youth football camp Friday, Panthers wideout Steve Smith had pointers and words of encouragement for some of the 500 campers in attendance.

Smith also had a little lesson in humility for one of his new Panthers' teammates.

Rookie cornerback Josh Norman told the Observer this week he had stayed with Smith in coverage during organized team activities and minicamp. The confident, fifth-round pick from Coastal Carolina went so far as to suggest he had frustrated Smith with his blanket coverage.

“He’d throw his hands in the air,” Norman said of Smith. “He'd have a couple words.”

Smith had a couple more words Friday when asked about Norman's competitiveness.

“For a young guy, he's coming out and he's playing well. But as far as how much swagger and he loves to compete, I look at it like all the other veterans – May and June you just kind of cruise a little bit just to get through,” Smith said during a break at his camp.

“Once late July, August comes, he's going to learn very quickly this isn't Coastal Carolina,” Smith added. “I look forward to camp. I hope he looks forward to camp, just like all the other DBs because the first week is never a good day for them when we've got this offense with Chud (offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski). It's going to be early and often and real quick.”

--Joseph Person

Posted by Observer Sports on June 15, 2012 at 03:15 PM | Permalink | Comments (34)

June 14, 2012

Beason glad to be back, but not sure where he will line up

Panthers linebacker Jon Beason had a good week in his first full-speed action following Achilles surgery in September.

And when the Panthers hold their first full-pads practice this summer in Spartanburg, Beason said he'll be ready – even if he's not sure where he'll line up.

“I'll be full go, no limitations, getting ready for the first preseason game – whoever that is – and our opener,” Beason said Thursday following the final minicamp practice.

First-round pick Luke Kuechly played middle linebacker at Boston College and took most of his reps there during OTAs and minicamp while Beason was sidelined.

Beason, a Pro Bowl middle linebacker, was asked where he would line up at training camp.

“I don't know,” he said. “But wherever it is, I'll be making a lot of plays and hopefully I don't hit anybody too hard that first day of pads.”

Beason has played the weakside previously, but has said his preference is the middle. It certainly sounded Thursday like that is still the case.

“Um, you know what, I guess I'll cross that bridge when it gets here,” Beason said when asked if he would be OK playing somewhere other than the middle.

But Beason has had nothing but praise for Kuechly, the NCAA's career tackling leader who intercepted Jimmy Clausen and ran it back for a touchdown Thursday before a crowd of about 5,500 at Bank of America Stadium.

“I think the world of the kid. He made a great play today. I was extremely happy for him because he was talking about getting an interception," Beason said. "To do it the last day, that's big time. He's got a lot of potential and I'll be happy to play with him.”

--Joseph Person

Posted by Observer Sports on June 14, 2012 at 02:26 PM | Permalink | Comments (12)

June 13, 2012

Cam Newton looking for more wins

Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton said he has a “long list” of areas he would like to improve on during his second season. At the top of the list: More victories.

“That's all that matters. Winning,” Newton said. “That's all we play this game for is to get that W. That's it.”

The Panthers went 6-10 in 2011 behind Newton, the league's Rookie of the Year after breaking Peyton Manning's rookie passing record. Newton began his career with consecutive 400-yard passing games in losses to Arizona and Green Bay, despite not having the benefit of a true offseason program due to the lockout.

Newton thinks he will be more prepared for his second season.

“I think this part helps a lot – minicamps, OTAs. That's something that I didn't have last year. I feel like if I would've had it, I would have been far advanced than I was,” Newton said. “But having this time with the coaches and players is something that you can't get with just working out every single day. And hopefully it shows come game time.”

Panthers offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski is adding layers to the Panthers' offense, which was the league's seventh-best last season.

“You want to come look at my playbook?” Newton said after Wednesday's walkthrough. “I'm telling you, man, it ain't on the Atkins diet, I can tell you that.”

On a serious note, Newton expressed condolences to the families of the victims in the Auburn shooting. Newton said the players who were killed were freshmen during Newton's lone season at Auburn.

“My heart goes out to the families that lost their son, their brother, their nephew. It’s disheartening just to even think about it,” Newton said. “Just to hear something like that, that’s very uncharacteristic of Auburn. It’s a very safe place.”

--Joseph Person

Posted by Observer Sports on June 13, 2012 at 12:49 PM | Permalink | Comments (31)

June 12, 2012

Gross: Weird that Saints motivated by "a little extra cash" in bounty program

With the benefit of hindsight, Panthers offensive tackle Jordan Gross said there were signs of the New Orleans Saints' bounty program, specifically the late hit New Orleans safety Roman Harper laid on wideout Steve Smith last year following Smith's touchdown in Charlotte.

Harper was flagged after drilling Smith in the end zone, a hit that resulted in a skirmish involving several players from both teams.

“I always thought all those guys on that team were a little bit – I'll just say an extra bit pushy and shoving and all that stuff,” Gross said. “It was so blatant when Harper hit Steve in the game here. That was just a blatant cheap shot. And then to hear that they had the bounty and all that, it makes sense.

“I just think it's weird that guys would be motivated by a little extra cash when everybody makes the money they do. It's honestly kind of funny that I don't think they ever successfully had a cart-off after all those years of trying to do it.”

--Joseph Person


Posted by Observer Sports on June 12, 2012 at 04:55 PM | Permalink | Comments (14)

Beason makes splash in return to practice

Panthers0613_16Panthers middle linebacker Jon Beason was back on the field Tuesday and back in the middle of the action.

Participating in team drills for the first time this spring following Achilles surgery last fall, Beason intercepted a Cam Newton pass during 11-on-11 work near the end of the Panthers' first minicamp practice.

Beason, who ruptured his left Achilles in Week 1 last season, was limited to individual drills and installation walk-throughs during the three weeks of organized team activities (OTAs) practices.

“It was good to see him moving around,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said.

“Really, the biggest thing was just his conditioning. He was winded. He's done all the installation stuff. But he was out there. And you could see he had a little adrenaline rush going. He was all fired up to get that last extra set of reps. He (asked) out just because he was gassed.”

Beason made a nice read on his interception of Newton, who was throwing down the middle of the field.

“A natural play,” Rivera said. “Somebody else might not make that play. But I think guys with his kind of his experience and his kind of ability make that. And that's what he saw. He made a nice move on the ball and a nice play.”

While Beason returned, weakside linebacker Thomas Davis rode a stationary bike and did some leg-strengthening exercises before leaving practice early. Davis is attempting to become the first player in NFL history to return from three ACL surgeries on the same knee.

Defensive end Charles Johnson (knee), defensive tackle Ron Edwards (biceps) and offensive tackle Jeff Otah (knee) all were held out.

Undrafted wideouts Brenton Bersin and Michael Avila are both sidelined with hamstring injuries.

--Joseph Person

Posted by Observer Sports on June 12, 2012 at 01:36 PM | Permalink | Comments (23)