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Newton gets first taste of NFL


SPARTANBURG, S.C. - When Cam Newton declared for the NFL Draft shortly after leading Auburn to the national championship in January, he didn't yet have any idea when he'd hear his name announced come draft night.

Newton already knew, however, where he'd be on the first day of training camp, a promise he kept Saturday morning when the No. 1 overall pick worked out in front of his Carolina Panthers' teammates and coaches for the first time.

"Everything went well. It actually felt good to go get taped again," Newton said. "Just having that feeling of being around everybody was exciting, just waking up and being around a football atmosphere.

"It was very, very important to me to get in camp on time to get around my team and my coaches to start understanding the playbook and bringing everything to fruition."

Newton said he never considered holding out. The NFL's new rookie wage scale would have limited his leverage even if he had wanted to prolong the process - and it limited his bottom line compared to recent No. 1 picks - but he isn't complaining.

"It really doesn't matter. Any way you look at it, I've still got more money than I've ever had," Newton said. "I don't look at it as a numbers scale; I'm still blessed in the situation that God has put me in.

"At the same time, in this League they set standards. If you play the way you're supposed to play and the way everybody is predicting that you're going to play, you're going to be all right."

The first order of business: Get up to speed on everything as quickly as possible. The NFL's work stoppage was lifted briefly on April 29, just after the Panthers drafted Newton, allowing him to meet for a few hours with coaches and get his hands on a playbook. Since then, however, no contact had been allowed until the last few days, leaving Newton to work out minus the Panthers' new coaching staff.

He did work out with his new teammates and former Panthers quarterback Chris Weinke at the IMG Madden Football Academy as much as possible, but now all restrictions to his growth have been lifted.

"I feel like I've come a long way, but there's still a long way to go as far as me being comfortable with this offense," Newton said. "I feel like I'm spitting out plays more comfortably than when I first got drafted and we went in the room and it was like, 'Wow.'

"Now, going into the meeting room I have the gist of what this offense is trying to do on each particular play, but I still have a long way to go."

One of Newton's best sources of information is his stiffest competition for the starting quarterback job. Newton said that Jimmy Clausen, who started 10 games as a rookie in 2010, has been an invaluable resource.

"I know me and Jimmy are battling for the starting spot, but I'm learning a lot of things from Jimmy. He's helping me out through this process, and, hopefully, I can help Jimmy out also," Newton said. "The golden rule is that competition brings out the best in everybody, but at the end of the day, we're still teammates. We still have respect for each other.

"It's not like he's walking to practice and I'm running, trying to get to practice before he is. It's a comfortable, competitive relationship."

The competition for the top spot should remain heated even if the temperature at Wofford College happens to dip below the century mark, but the competition for the No. 2 jersey is over. Clausen switched from the No. 7 jersey he wore at Notre Dame (currently held by punter Jason Baker) to No. 2 before his rookie year. Newton wore No. 2 at Auburn but will become the first Panther to wear No. 1.

"I went to Jimmy, and we talked about the numbers situation. Rightfully, it was his number first," Newton said. "I'm not bitter toward me having No. 1 and him having No. 2. He just had the number first, and we couldn't settle our differences - not that it was a difference. His offer that he put out, I just felt like I would rather start off with another number. That's his number, and we'll just keep it like that."

Now that possible distractions like his jersey number and contract numbers have been put to rest, Newton can focus his full attention on his No. 1 priority: becoming the best quarterback and leader he can be.

"I go out there every single day hoping to learn and to continuously get better," he said. "When people see me working hard and holding myself accountable, hopefully that will rub off on so many other people.

"I think you get respect from your teammates by working hard and earning what you want."


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