The Carolina Panthers voted quarterback Cam Newton a team captain, coach Ron Rivera said before practice Thursday.
Newton, the No. 1 pick in the 2011 draft, is in a captain's role for the first time in his NFL career.
The move was considered a surprise because his leadership has been called in question during the preseason.
Rivera named six captains in all, also including wide receiver Steve Smith, left tackle Jordan Gross, center Ryan Kalil, linebacker Thomas Davis and linebacker Luke Kuechly.
The Panthers had five captains in 2012. Rivera added one after finding out the NFL allows up to six per team. He named the team's top six overall vote-getters as captains. Last year, he named the top two on offense, two on defense and one on special teams.
Newton being voted in is symbolic of the team's support, despite having losing seasons both years with Newton as quarterback.
"I'm excited about who he's becoming," Rivera said. "Last year, you could see he was growing. Cam is still growing, but he's also a little more mature, a little more comfortable, a little more savvy.
"He's learned a lot of things, and he can do those things that can help us, that can give us an opportunity to win football games."
Newton was not available for comment before practice, but he addressed the topic of possibly being a team captain during training camp in August.
"I recognize, and everyone knows around the league, when you're a team captain, that's not just a patch on the jersey," Newton said. "You're holding yourself to a higher standard with being accountable. I'm going about it each and every day and trying to make that happen."