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Strickly Panthers: Newton aims high

Posted Oct 13, 2011

CHARLOTTE - Quarterbacks in Cam Newton's shoes aren't supposed to succeed.

But Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, who will oppose Newton on Sunday in Atlanta, is proof positive that rookies can turn things around.

No rookie quarterback chosen first overall in the NFL Draft has ever had a winning record as the full-time starter, but Ryan was picked No. 3 in 2008 and led the Falcons to 11 victories – tied with Joe Flacco of the Baltimore Ravens for most victories by a rookie who started all 16 games.

Regardless, Newton isn't worried about how rare immediate success is for high draft picks.

"You don't come in and say, ‘Well, this particular guy lost this many games, so I'm going to lose this many games, too.' I think that's an excuse," Newton said. "So many people look at history and say, ‘Well, it happened to them, so it's going to happen to me, too.' That's not the way that you have to script out your legacy.

"I have the same opportunity to go out and win each week as Tom Brady does or Aaron Rodgers does."

Newton has put the Panthers in position to win with some historic rookie numbers, but four losses by a total of 22 points have them sitting at 1-4.

The four rookie quarterbacks selected No. 1 overall since 1989 to start all 16 games – a group that includes Peyton Manning and Troy Aikman – went a combined 15-49. The most recent one is the most successful one of the group: Sam Bradford produced a 7-9 record with the St. Louis Rams last season.

Most rookie quarterbacks picked No. 1 fail not only because they're rookies but also because the team that picked them had to be coming off a poor season to possess the No. 1 pick in the first place.

The Panthers were 2-14 last season, but Newton has plenty of help at the skill positions with wide receiver Steve Smith and a pair of proven performers at both running back (DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart) and tight end (Greg Olsen, Jeremy Shockey).

That same formula helped Ryan as a rookie, with a team coming off a 4-12 record having the likes of Roddy White at receiver and Michael Turner at running back.

"I was in a really great spot as a rookie to have a number of good players around me who helped me through the growing pains, and we were still able to be productive," Ryan said. "Anytime you're surrounded by guys who can make plays, guys who are veteran and experienced and can help you out and settle you down a little bit, it makes a big difference."

The Panthers drafted Newton at No. 1 in part because of the presence of quarterbacks like Ryan in the NFC South. Last season, Ryan, Drew Brees (New Orleans) and Josh Freeman (Tampa Bay) all led their teams to 10 or more victories.

By the way, Freeman went 3-6 as a rookie in 2009. Brees didn't get any starts as a rookie with the San Diego Chargers in 2001 but went 8-8 as a starter his second season.


PUTTING IT BEHIND HIM: Newton has attracted a lot of attention for how he laments losses in the locker room immediately after the game, but head coach Ron Rivera said Newton has a great sense of timing when it comes to handling his emotions – both during games and after games.

"He would have been a great cornerback because at corner when you get beat, you've just got to go to the next play. He goes to the next play," Rivera said. "Now at the end of the game, as we've seen, he beats himself up pretty good. He just saves it all up. But he's got great control, great poise."

Rivera said that Newton uses the disappointment of losses to drive him heading into the next game, adding that Newton always turns his focus to the next game in plenty of time despite his public displays of despair.

"His sense for just moving onto the next thing is tremendous. He sees the big picture," Rivera said. "He wants to make sure the next time out that he does everything he can. He's a perfectionist."


BEHIND HIM: Newton is the only Panthers quarterback to see the field so far this season, but reserves Derek Anderson and Jimmy Clausen are doing more than merely waiting in the wings.

"I like the room that we have," offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski said. "Those guys, attitude-wise, couldn't be any better. They're positive. They help each other out. It's a good group, and (quarterbacks coach) Mike (Shula) does a great job with them."

Chudzinski said both try to stay sharp by running the scout team in practice. Anderson, a seven-year veteran, has been Newton's backup for each of the first five games, while Clausen – in his second season – has been inactive.

"It's nice to have a veteran guy like Derek that has done this before because he understands that," Chudzinski said. "He's been in those situations, so from a mental standpoint he's prepared. He's done a great job of being ready if we would need him.

"Jimmy has been great in meetings. I've talked to him about preparing like he's the starter and going at it every week that way, and he's done that. Obviously with trying to get the offense in in a short amount of time and the limited amount of reps we had in training camp, I see him as a developing player. I can't wait for him to get a chance to get some reps in the offseason so he can really get to know the offense and really sink his teeth into it."