Odd Man Rush: Newton ready to be a leader in Carolina

The Carolina Panthers brought stability to their quarterback position when they selected Cam Newton with the top pick of the 2011 draft.

As a bonus, it appears the franchise has also landed its long-term leader both on the field and in the locker room.

There was plenty of blame to go around the Panthers following their Week 1 loss to the Tampa Buccaneers by a 16-10 margin. There was a ground game that managed just 10 yards total and a defense that was solid but failed to force a turnover or prevent Tampa Bay's run game from controlling the clock.

And there was Newton, who threw for over 300 yards but contributed just four yards on the ground and was picked off twice.

The 23-year-old could have chalked it up to Week 1 rust, pointed fingers at an ineffective ground game that was without Jonathan Stewart because of an ankle issue or simply shrugged his shoulders and called it a loss.

Instead, Newton put the weight of the setback on his own shoulders.

He called one of his two picks "disgusting" afterwards and said he felt the team could have found a way to win if not for his two interceptions. The reigning Offensive Rookie of the Year apparently didn't back down from that assessment after talking with head coach Ron Rivera on Tuesday.

"In typical Cam fashion, he put it on himself -- things he felt he could have done better, things he felt he could have handled better," Rivera said at his press conference the following day. "I think the one thing he has done is he has opened up and has been a little more vocal about it, which I think is good. I think the more he says, the more he's out the about it, the better off he'll be and that's my opinion."

During his turn at the podium on Wednesday, Newton altered his approach a bit. While he is quickly becoming the new face of the franchise, he made sure to stress that it will take an entire team effort to get things going in the right direction.

"I think we have to focus on offensively starting fast, everybody being accountable of what their job is," stated the quarterback. "You go back and watch the game, we had our opportunities. I think the defense did enough for the offense to carry us to a win. We are better than 10 points offensively.

"If you go back and look at (the game versus the Buccaneers), down by down it's a different person and coach pointed that out. That can't happen. If we want to be the team we know we can be, 11 guys have to be on board each and every play."

Many wondered just what kind of NFL player Newton would develop into after a perhaps unfair stigma followed him from his college days, when it was found that his father had attempted to secure money from Mississippi State when his son was preparing to transfer from junior college.

Newton, who eventually transferred to Auburn, was briefly suspended, but was instead deemed eligible because he did not know about his father Cecil's actions.

Newton's maturity isn't going unnoticed. Aaron Kromer, interim head coach of Newton's opponent on Sunday, the New Orleans Saints, sees the Carolina QB taking big steps forward in the passing game.

"When you talk about the yards that he had last year, there were a lot of hard play action passes, throwing deep balls and gaining a lot of yards," said Kromer. "This year, it looks like they have the full spectrum of the passing game that he is ready to handle and they are expecting him to handle.

"It sure looks like they are opening the playbook for Cam Newton."

Losing is not something that sits well with Newton. He did not suffer a single defeat during his junior season with the National Championship-winning Auburn Tigers and turned a two-win Panthers club into a 6-10 club during his record- setting rookie campaign.

Many expect Newton to take his Panthers another step forward in 2012. He is already on his way there as a leader.