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Cam Newton can still be a "special player"

Cam Newton

CHARLOTTE — Cam Newton has done some amazing things here.

The Panthers know that. He knows that. And both sides know the leaving added a layer to this story, one that adds an epic layer to what might come.

When Newton was released last offseason, it set the stage for a season with the Patriots, and potentially some hard feelings.

But if there were any, head coach Matt Rhule hasn't picked up on them this week.

"We did at the time what we thought was in the best interest of the Carolina Panthers," Rhule said Thursday. "I think Cam went to New England, I'm sure he is much better for having been there, and now he gets to come back here. To me, this is all a journey that's coming to a fitting end.

"I don't live with a lot of hindsight; I don't look backward. You talk to someone; if someone has feelings, you listen to them. Cam was talking about the future; Cam wasn't talking about the past. I was talking about the future; I wasn't talking about the past. I'm ready to go."

The process of bringing back the former No 1 overall pick began in earnest Tuesday night, when Rhule called Newton to gauge his interest.

"He emphatically said yes," Rhule said.

Then they moved quickly through the process of talking contract (it's a one-year deal), and got to a place Wednesday night that made both sides comfortable for a face-to-face meeting. Newton flew into town Thursday morning, when owner David Tepper and general manager Scott Fitterer met with him away from the stadium (Rhule was on the phone preparing for practice), sealing the deal.

While Newton's return has created plenty of excitement, both around Bank of America Stadium (crowds were gathered outside the practice field waiting for a glimpse, even though Newton wasn't there yet) and places far from Charlotte (LeBron James was tweeting about him), the Panthers are taking a more narrow view.

What they are more interested in at the moment is what the next thing is on the field. And they think it's coming soon.

While they plan to start P.J. Walker at quarterback Sunday against the Cardinals, Rhule did not rule out Newton having some role. And because the defense and the rest of the team are playing at a solid level, they think the 32-year-old quarterback can help them right now.

"A healthy Cam Newton is a special player," Rhule said.

He also made it clear that Newton's here to play, and would likely do so soon.

Unlike some of the people here, Fitterer only had the "3,000-mile view" of Newton over the years.

But when Fitterer was working for the Seahawks, he saw Newton at his best. When the Patriots came to Seattle in Week 2 last year, Newton was 30-of-44 passing for 397 yards and a touchdown and also ran for two touchdowns.

New England Patriots quarterback Cam Newton (1) rushes for a touchdown against the Seattle Seahawks during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 20, 2020, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Coupled with the preseason tape he watched from this year, Fitterer thinks Newton can make a difference now.

"He was such a dynamic runner," Fitterer said of looking back at the last year and preseason of Newton's tape. "He can make the throws short to intermediate. We liked all those things about him. Then we came back to this year and looked at the tape, and he looked good. He looks like Cam. He's not Cam of 10 years ago, but he's Cam now, and it's someone that can fit our offense. I know Joe (Brady, the Panthers offensive coordinator) can adapt his scheme to his skill set, and that's what we're going to do."

Rhule talked about how signing Newton to come in and play quickly was a "disciplined decision," and not at cross-purposes with any of the team's long-term goals.

The goal is to win. And they clearly think he can do that.

"I'm sure Cam Newton's not living on what he's done," Rhule said. "He's all about what's next and what he wants to do. And that's what he wants to do, that's where I am, and that's where this team is. This team wants to win. And this team moving forward wants to win. They want to win now, they want to win this year, and they want to win next year.

"This isn't about anything other than winning. And I think that's why Cam's here, because he wants to win."

The Panthers are 4-5 now, but still very much in the mix in a muddled NFC playoff race.

It's the spot that requires a shot of juice. In case you haven't noticed, that's Cam Newton's specialty.

Wide receiver DJ Moore was a rookie during Newton's last healthy year here (2018). He also worked out with Newton in Atlanta this offseason, and thought the now-veteran quarterback looked like himself. And Moore said that while most of the guys in this locker room don't have any background with Newton, they'll find out quickly what he brings.

Like a lot of people, Moore can't wait to see it.

"I just know that his vibe and his energy is going to hit everybody differently," Moore said. "Once everybody gets to understand him, know what he's about, it's going to change everybody's perspective. From the outside, he might look like he's playing around, but that's how he works. . . .

"We've got a whole new locker room that doesn't know who Cam is. They could just see him running around the field listening to music, hype, as something silly. But that's just how he gets himself going. Not knowing it can rub off them in a different way, and they can be all juiced up."

Friday, when he steps on the practice field for the first time, we'll see how that begins to manifests itself.

View photos of quarterback Cam Newton officially signing back with the Panthers.

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