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Newton aims to prove value all over again

BRADENTON, Fla. - Before last year's regular season opener, some observers doubted that Panthers quarterback Cam Newton would succeed in the NFL.

Before this year's opener, some observers doubt that Newton can succeed again, projecting a sophomore slump for the 2011 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year.

"I don't think anything has changed. Some people still feel a certain way about me," Newton said Wednesday after practice at IMG Academy, where he trained leading up to his remarkable rookie campaign.

Newton hasn't changed the way he feels about himself.

"I don't think anyone's expectations of me will ever be as high as mine," he said. "I'm not surprised by anything I do. The only time I'm surprised is when I don't play to my potential."

Former Panthers quarterback Chris Weinke, the director of IMG's football program, wasn't among the doubters. After working with Newton for nearly two months last summer, he could see what was in store.

"The naysayers were reporting that he was going to struggle coming out of a simplistic offense at Auburn," Weinke said. "I sat quietly and listened to all of that knowing that he was going to have great success."

But Newton, to say the least, isn't one to rest on his laurels. He ended last season more focused on the Panthers' 6-10 record than on the rookie records he set. His hunger for team success will continue to drive him into Sunday's season opener at Tampa Bay and well beyond.

"He puts a lot of pressure on himself to be great," Panthers head coach Ron Rivera said. "Win or lose, it's always about what else he could have done to help his team.

"It's kind of that window-versus-mirror thing: In a win, he looks out and sees who else is doing a great job. When we lose, he looks in the mirror at himself."

PRESIDENTIAL PARDON: A reporter asked Newton if the presence of President Barack Obama in Charlotte or the start of the NFL season was a bigger deal.

"Of course, the political thing to say would have to be the President of the United States, but it depends on who you're asking," Newton said. "If you're asking me personally, this is my job. The President has his job, and he has to do it to the best of his ability. This is my job, so I'm going to try to do it to the best of my ability." 

DEFENSIVE DEBUT: While Newton is fired up about starting his second season, linebacker Luke Kuechly can't wait for his debut.

"I'm excited. It's been a long time coming," said Kuechly, the ninth overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft. "You go through the combine, all the training, then OTAs and (training) camp, and now the first game is finally right around the corner.

"It means something now. The preseason games obviously mean something, but this is special." 

QUICK HITS: The Panthers will have the same captains on offense and defense that they had in 2011: left tackle Jordan Gross and wide receiver Steve Smith and linebackers Jon Beason and Thomas Davis. Linebacker Jordan Senn will serve as special teams captain. … Running back Jonathan Stewart (ankle) and center Jeff Byers (knee) did not participate in practice but did get in some work on the side. Rivera said he's "most certainly optimistic" about Stewart's status and that Byers "looked pretty solid as well." Beason (thigh) and Steve Smith (foot) appeared on the injury report, but they participated fully in practice.

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