INDIANAPOLIS -- It's safe to say that though the Carolina Panthers took Cam Newton with the first overall pick in the 2011 NFL draft, they couldn't have expected what Newton did in his rookie season. Breaking several records for first-year quarterbacks and completely turning around a passing offense that was far beyond pathetic before he came on board? Well, when we spoke with Newton during Super Bowl week, those things were just the beginning. He's already looking ahead.
Thursday at the scouting combine, however, Panthers head coach Ron Rivera had occasion to look back at Newton's incredible season, in which he added 14 rushing touchdowns to his 21 scores through the air. Key among the imperatives for Carolina's coaching staff was to merge the offensive concepts Newton was familiar with from his Auburn days into something that could work in the NFL. As it was with Tim Tebow in Denver, the team's ability to adjust to what a spread offense quarterback does well, as opposed to forcing a pro-style scheme and acting as if a bad fit would be inevitable, set Newton up to succeed.
"I don't know if we changed as much as we added," Rivera said of the Panthers' offensive plan with Newton. "If you go back and look at the different pass plays we used off of play-action, drop-back passes, and then some of the spread offense stuff he was used to seeing. Our coaches went back and studied some of the Auburn things, and we adapted those things to our playbook."
Part of that adjustment was making sure that Newton had the reps he needed -- especially with the abbreviated offseason -- even at the expense of the security provided by a more experienced backup.
"One of the things we did was ... when you go into a training camp, and you're trying to develop young quarterbacks, you give them the majority of the snaps. We didn't bring a veteran -- Derek Anderson -- in until after the first week. Jimmy Clausen and Cam got all the snaps. So, if there were 100 snaps that day, it was 50/50. Whereas, if you brought another guy in, it would have cut those reps. Everything we did offensively was based on the development of our young quarterbacks."
Rivera knows that there will be more expected of Newton in 2012, but coach and player are ready for that. "Oh, certainly -- the expectations are going to be higher because of the success we had on the offensive side of the ball," Rivera said. "I thought [Newton] handled the situation very well, and I thought the plan we had in place to develop our quarterback went very well. I thought [the coaches] handled that in a positive manner, and [Newton's] development was ... being the player we thought he would be.
"Being there early, staying late, doing the extra things that were needed, and doing some things on his own. Coming to the coaches and trying to get more help -- I mean, you could really see that he exceeded the expectations of a lot of people, and his success came sooner than we expected. But we always thought the young man had certain abilities, and he did shine."
And that was just in 2011. From here on out, the sky could be the limit.
- Ron Rivera