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CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Cam Newton was a bad teammate last season. Never mind the ridiculous numbers he put up and helped his teammates compile. Never mind the highlight plays. Never mind the Rookie of the Year award he earned.
He was a bad teammate and that needs to change.
Just ask him.
"I was very immature," Newton said when asked about his sometimes moody reaction as losses piled up. "I'll be the first one to tell you, the pouting and the moping, I kind of overdid it. I know that. I was a bad teammate. I shut off to some people who gave unbelievable effort. … That's where I have to mature."
OK, seriously, this is sort of like Ray Allen complaining when one of his jump shots rattles in rather than hitting nothing but net. Or it's like going to the Palace of Versailles and saying there were a few weeds in the garden.
Newton complaining about his postgame behavior in the face of some narrow losses misses the point. Fact is, anybody who saw the pre-Newton Panthers go 2-14 in 2010 will tell you just how much Newton helped changed the culture of the team in addition to helping boost its record to 6-10.
But this is one of the things Newton knows he has to work on if the full picture is going to come into focus. Newton doesn't want to be some freakishly talented athlete who just puts up numbers and gets all sorts of attention. That's why, even as he set one record after another, throwing 21 touchdown passes and rushing for 14 more, his attitude got increasingly dour.
After a 24-21 loss to Minnesota in Week 8, Newton was particularly angry. Eventually, the anger started to wear on teammates because, in some small respects, Newton was missing the bigger picture.
"Cam was angry because he thought he could and should make every play," said wide receiver Steve Smith, who somehow may have met his match in the intensity department. Like Smith, Newton is unusually high-strung in a business filled with driven people.
"He has to realize you can't do it all yourself. It's like when someone drops a touchdown pass at the end of a close game. You can say that play cost the team a chance to win the game, but it didn't cause the team to lose. As you get older in this game, you see how everybody has to do their job and how there are so many plays in a game that affect the outcome. As a competitor, you want the ball in your hands at the end to make the play, but you can't do it all in football. You have to give other people a chance to make a play for you, to help you out."
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Smith is an example of Newton's effect on the team. After the 2010 season, the veteran was ready to ask out of Carolina. He mulled a request to be traded, not wanting to be part of a rebuilding process. The team eventually talked him into returning, but it was Newton's presence that soothed Smith's famously emotional approach.
"Cam and I challenge each other in a good way," said Smith, 33. "He came out to practice one time in training camp and said, 'Man, I'm tired.' I looked at him and said, 'How can you be tired, you been here like 15 minutes.' He took that the right way and really went hard in practice.
"A little later, he threw a deep one to me and it went over me. I came back to the huddle and he said, 'The old Steve Smith would have caught that.' After that, I went just a little harder on every route. I wasn't going to let him overthrow me again. That's good. That's bringing the best out of both of us."
Smith had a renaissance season in 2011, posting the third-best yardage total of his career (1,394 yards). He looked like the speed receiver who dominated the league in his late 20s.
"[Cam] came in and did things that helped all of us be more successful. I expected a lot from him and he went beyond that," Smith said.
Still, there were times when Newton would brood, and that was taken as an affront by some teammates.
"It's like [quarterbacks] coach [Mike] Shula says to me, 'Water off a duck's back, you can't let it bother you,' " Newton said. "If you let little things affect you, it's going to stay with you the next time you have to go out on the field. So I have to do a better job of controlling my emotions during the good and the bad. Just be a better teammate. My position requires that I show leadership and people are looking at me. If I'm pouty and grumpy, that's how they react to me.
"Half the time it wasn't me shutting people down because I was thinking they weren't giving the same effort as me, it was me knowing there were things I could do that could have changed the outcome of the game. … I put a lot on me to be able to respond. When things are going wrong, I wanted to have the ball in my hand, just like any warrior, any competitor who has played this game. When you don't get the results you want, I didn't go about it the right way."
Newton would let an interception or bad play eat at him during games, rather than focusing on what had to be done next. Unlike the year before, when Newton led Auburn to the national championship with his superlative play, he had to deal with the fact that his play wasn't always enough.
Never mind that what he and the Panthers did last season was a minor miracle when you factor in there was no offseason to prepare.
"We were getting into games and running plays that we had maybe practiced three or four times in training camp," tight end Greg Olsen said. "We hadn't had time to even begin to develop confidence in a play, but we were out there running it. As we went along and figured out the more things Cam could do, it was amazing to see how far we could get."
Newton said last season revealed to him how much he had to change when things went wrong. Earlier this offseason, he spent time going over video of every game from last year. He made appointments with teammates to throw with them, even spending time in Miami with Olsen, who had to cut the session short to deal with family issues.
"He was scheduled to come down for two weeks, but we only got to throw for a couple days before I had to come back up here," Olsen said.
Like Smith, Olsen chuckled at Newton's "bad teammate" analysis.
"Cam is not a bad teammate; he's just a young guy learning how tough this game can be," Olsen said.
These days, Newton is getting his first taste of real offseason work with the Carolina coaching staff. Last week he was focused on staying in the pocket while making his progressions and working on his timing.
That leads to the obvious question: If Newton and the Panthers could have that much success last season with no offseason to prepare, what's fair to expect this year?
"My fingers are crossed and my knees are on the floor every night just praying and just demanding that people watch the show and see what happens this year. Just watch the show," Newton said.
But just as much as Newton is focused on the execution, he remains cognizant of his approach.
"I have to have the same mentality, but I have to go about it in a different way," Newton said of his emotions. "It's an overall maturity level that has to kick in. It's saying, 'OK, that was two plays ago that you threw that interception, now you have to let that go and get past that.' I can't be moping and crying about making a bonehead play when it was three series ago. That's the thing that I did that has to change."
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