Panthers' top pick Newton ready for scrutiny
CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Before signing off on the decision to draft Cam Newton No. 1 overall, Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson invited the former Auburn quarterback to his home and pulled out a letter from a fan.
"In that letter," explained Newton, "the person said, 'Mr. Richardson, can you please ask Cam Newton if he wants to be great?'"
A day after the Panthers gambled that Newton does have the drive to be a franchise quarterback, Newton stood at a podium on Friday in a crisp gray suit and blue tie and vowed not to be outworked.
"I understand it's not something that's going to be instant, like instant grits," Newton said of adjusting to the NFL. "It's more like collard greens. You've got to let it sit and wait. But at the same time it's going to be a fun process. I know that."
Sporting a wide smile and oozing confidence, Newton met with reporters at his new place of employment Friday as he embarks on a quest to shed negative labels and overcome intense scrutiny to lead the Panthers out of the NFL's basement.
"I have embraced this whole process of being a person everybody looks at," Newton said.
That was certainly the case as Newton paraded around Bank of America Stadium as the highest draft pick — and likely the riskiest — in the Panthers' 17 seasons.
The questions surround his off-field problems at Florida, his father's alleged pay-for-play scheme during his recruitment and how he'll adapt from a spread offense at Auburn to a pro-style system where reading defenses is more difficult.
"When you look at the Auburn offense, they see somewhat of a simplistic offense. But at the same time you can't fault me for going into an offense that a coach had his own philosophy," Newton said. "It's my job to make that transition and make everything run smoothly."
The 6-foot-5, 248-pound Heisman Trophy winner certainly did that at Auburn. He threw 30 touchdown passes and rushed for 20 more in the Tigers' 14-0 national championship season. In comparison, the Panthers scored 16 offensive touchdowns in two more games in 2010.
"His ability to run with the football, as a ball carrier, not just as a scrambler," coach Ron Rivera said when asked about Newton's strengths. "He can open things up for our running backs. If the defense crashes down on the line of scrimmage, he can bootleg outside and make something happen."
But how long will it take to get to that point? And can he stay out of trouble?
Center Ryan Kalil couldn't resist needling his new teammate when he posted on Twitter, "Congratulations to entertainer and icon, Cam Newton." That's in reference to a declaration Newton made to Sports Illustrated in which he said he saw himself as more than a football player.
Kalil, though, was quick to introduce himself to Newton on Friday.
"Listen, as long as he's winning football games and helping us win football games he can say and do whatever he wants," Kalil said.
Winning happened only twice for Carolina last season amid terrible quarterback play. Jimmy Clausen went 1-9 as a rookie starter after he replaced the injured and ineffective Matt Moore.
"Obviously we struggled last year," said Moore, set to be a free agent. "If a guy like that who is an explosive player can help this team, it's a good pick."
There was another element of intrigue in the impending QB competition.
After Newton stood with Rivera holding a No. 1 Panthers jersey and cameras flashed, Newton was asked if he hoped to wear No. 2, what he wore at Auburn.
"I will try," Newton said.
That number right now belongs to Clausen.
And while Clausen welcomed him via a text message Thursday night, he's not surrendering his job. Clausen was among the first players to arrive at team headquarters at dawn Friday when the NFL opened its doors following a court order to end the lockout.
"He wished me luck. Just for a person to do that says a lot about his character and what type of person he really is," Newton said. "We had an interesting conversation about Charlotte. He said he was here and I was hoping I'd get a chance to meet him. I'm looking forward to not only meeting Jimmy, but a lot of other teammates."
After talking of how he hoped to pattern his work ethic after star QBs Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees, Newton was whisked away for meetings with coaches. It was the first step in a process in which the Panthers and Newton hope to prove critics wrong.
"I'm saying it right now: I'm trying to be the best," Newton said. "I strive to be great."