|National Football League|
Panthers QB Newton keeps proving critics wrong
By STEVE REED
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) Cam Newton remembers all of the criticisms.
He couldn't read defenses. He threw off his back foot. He wasn't accurate enough.
The Carolina Panthers second-year quarterback laughs them off these days with a knowing, confident smile.
"If I base my career off things people have said that I couldn't do I would have quit this game a long time ago," Newton told the Associated Press on Wednesday. "You can't listen to what the naysayers say about you because their opinion is just that - their opinion."
Newton is very secure in his own skin, not to mention immensely talented in a football uniform.
He wowed the naysayers in his first NFL season with a record-setting performance, eclipsing Peyton Manning's record for yards passing by a rookie and rushing touchdowns in a season by a quarterback. He captured AP Offensive Rookie of the Year honors and developed into one of the league's more popular players virtually overnight.
Now everyone wants to see what he does for an encore.
The Panthers went from last in the league in total offense prior to Newton's arrival to seventh overall last season. They finished 6-10 - a four-game improvement over the year before - but expectations are even higher this year given Newton has an offseason to work on his skills and gain a better working knowledge of coordinator Rob Chudzinski's ever-changing scheme.
There is no NFL lockout to contend with and Newton has been given time to digest some of the things that were thrown at him in rapid fire succession last summer.
"There were a lot of times last year I felt like I was guessing," Newton said. "That can happen in this league and sometimes it showed."
This offseason, he looks more confident.
"The neat thing about it is you see a lot of the different things we're trying to do and develop within our offense," coach Ron Rivera said. "Cam seems to be grasping those very well."
The 6-foot-5, 245-pound Newton won respect from players and coaches around the league with his unmatched combination of versatility, power and speed, perhaps ushering in a new generation of NFL quarterback. He won the hearts of fans too, finishing as the runner-up to Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson for the Madden 2013 cover.
In terms of statistics, he had one of the best seasons ever for a rookie quarterback. Yet he shrugs his shoulders when asked about them.
"Winning is all that matters," Newton said. "That's what we play this game for - to get the W."
Newton's love of the game is unmistakable.
On the practice field, he's like a big kid, often seen running around with his arms spread wide like an eagle pretending to fly, his smile wide and bright. He laughs. He sings. He cuts up with his teammates. Rivera said the last player he saw with that much charisma was Walter Payton, his former teammate with the Chicago Bears.
Newton said that attitude harkens back to his grade school days when a teacher spoke to the kids on career day.
"I was told, `Pay attention kids because you want to decide on a career that you're doing for the rest of your life and you want to find one you enjoy waking up and doing,'" Newton said.
For Newton it was football.
"I don't think my jump shot is as good as Kevin Durant's or LeBron's (James)," Newton said with a laugh. "I can't hit the baseball like Albert Pujols and I can't run fast like Usain Bolt. I had to pick my trade very fast. My Pops used to always say, `Son, just be good at something.' I picked something and just ran with it."
It was also Cecil Newton who told him you have to work for everything you get.
Newton certainly listened to that advice.
"My father was very influential in everybody's life, not just me," Newton said. "If you know my family, Cecil Newton is a person who everybody looks to for guidance. He's always been that way and not only to me, but for my cousins.
"I will always look for him to guidance to help me in the times of celebration and in trouble because that's my father. But it's always been a mindset to be goal-oriented in my family. It was always instilled in my heads, and not just me but my brothers' heads too, that hey, you can't get something for nothing."
Rivera said there's nobody who has worked harder the past two seasons than Newton - and for that he been rewarded.
Newton could have made it a point to say "I told you so," to his critics after last season.
When he's asked about it, he just smiles knowingly.
"The thing is I don't play this game to prove nothing to nobody but myself," Newton said. "I've said it once and I'll say it again, there are a lot of expectations out there for Cameron Newton but none of them are going to ever exceed what I want for myself. And that's how it is going to be until I'm no longer able to play this game."
Updated June 13, 2012