SPARTANBURG, S.C. – Because he's tried so hard to ignore what others think and say about him, Cam Newton can sometimes appear aloof. But as he heads into the seventh and perhaps most important year of his NFL career, the Panthers quarterback is fully aware of the narratives currently connected to him following the worst season of his career.
"I took last year personal," Newton said Thursday ahead of Carolina's second training camp practice. "I took it extremely personal, and I knew that something had to change.
"I feel as if with my impact to that locker room, I wanted people to see this is just not no other year. I didn't want to speak it. I wanted to action it."
Which is why Newton, who's a notorious sweet tooth, has cut back on gummy bears and other treats.
Which is why when Newton stepped on the scale this week in Spartanburg, he saw a reading of 246 pounds, likely the lightest he's been since his college days.
Which is why coaches believe their most important player is now in the best shape he's been in at this point on the calendar.
"I've been having this mentality ever since our last game in Tampa," Newton said.
"[In past offseasons], I probably would've took a lot of time off, and then the one month to get prepared, that's when everybody pretty much crams working out. I did it differently. I just kept the pressure on. I had a lot of time on my hands in February, so I figured from February on, I'd just keep the pedal down."
Newton could control his weight and conditioning, but he couldn't push his so-called pedal to its fullest. Surgery to repair a partially torn rotator cuff in his right shoulder meant he had to work with trainers on the side while his teammates went through OTAs and minicamp this spring.
Wednesday night, he was on a pitch count, but he was finally able to throw for an entire practice for the first time since he injured his shoulder in December.
"It felt good. It felt great," Newton said. "I was kind of nervous, though, I ain't going to lie."
Understandably, the entire organization and fan base are still somewhat nervous about Newton's shoulder. But as his list of injuries grows, he's slowly accepting that he's not actually Superman.
"Young Cam would've been hurt and ate some gummy bears walking back to the room and I would've been good," Newton said. "But now, a couple kids in, you start feeling the little throbs and just knowing you're not doing your body its justice."
The responsibility to preserve a guy just one season removed from an MVP season isn't all on Newton, though. Realizing the toll Newton's body has taken his first six seasons, the coaching staff has tinkered with the offense. Fewer designed runs and read options. More rollouts and quicker passes, aka: layups.
"I'm just going to take what the defense gives me. Do I have weapons? Absolutely. But it's still going to be on me and in me to focus on getting those different outlets the ball at the right time," Newton said. "As far as designed and called runs? I could care less. I want to win in the worst way. Straight up."
And despite "PANTHERS PLAN TO KEEP NEWTON FROM RUNNING" headlines, it's not like they're going to all of a sudden ask him to become a pocket passer.
"That's my edge. You going to expect a lion not to roar?" Newton asked. "The thing that puts me at advantage most times is having that ability to run."
Judiciously. With a good mix of layups. That's the key for Newton and the Panthers. Because when the bullets start flying, if he continues to feel he has to make every play turn into a first down or touchdown, it could be 2016 all over again.
"I just know, for my career," Newton said, "I can't let that happen again. Ever."
View photos from Carolina's first practice at Gibbs Stadium.