SPARTANBURG, S.C. – When Cam Newton threw for 422 yards in his first NFL regular-season game last Sept. 11, displaying the nonchalant mastery of Kelly Slater shooting through an expansive tube at Pipeline, it was hard to find anyone associated with pro football who wasn't stunned.
Given the challenges Newton faced upon entering the league as the first overall draft pick during a disruptive labor war, no one had expected him to be so good, so soon. He'd had only one year of major college football experience, in a relatively unsophisticated offense. The lockout had wiped out the entire 2011 offseason, keeping him away from the Carolina Panthers' practice field until the first day of training camp. And he was fast-tracked into the lineup as the face of a franchise that was beaten down and demoralized.
And yet Newton, against all logic, looked completely comfortable in his stellar debut against the Arizona Cardinals. Even his coaches and teammates were shocked.
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