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Carolina Panthers

Newton in running for record


CHARLOTTE - When Panthers quarterback Cam Newton improvises with his legs, it puts both his opponents and his own team on edge.

Opponents should worry about stopping him, but Newton said Wednesday that his team has nothing to worry about.

"I know this might sound crazy, but I feel more comfortable about protecting myself (outside of the pocket) than when I'm defenseless in the pocket," Newton said. "Inside the pocket, I don't see who's coming. Your body is vulnerable to hits, and you can't really brace if you want to get a completion.

"I can be more dangerous when I'm running, when I have my eyes on a swivel and am aware of my surroundings. Honestly, I take more hits in the pocket than I do outside the pocket."

Newton got out of the pocket twice for touchdowns last Sunday at Detroit to break the NFL record for rushing touchdowns by a rookie quarterback and close in on the NFL record.

Newton ranks third in the NFL in rushing touchdowns with nine, two more than Vince Young had as a rookie in 2006. Steve Grogan holds the NFL record for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback with 12 in 1976.

On Newton's second touchdown run Sunday, he improvised in more ways than one, scoring from 6 yards out on essentially a quarterback sneak.

Newton checked out of the primary play called in the huddle to an alternate play that he had called in the huddle as well, a growing trend as Newton continues to grow as a pro quarterback.

"I'm a chameleon," Newton said. "It's just game planning. There are some plays that we like against certain fronts and plays we don't like, so we double up plays to get us into a safe play."

Panthers head coach Ron Rivera has said that in an ideal world he'd prefer that Newton not run as much, but as Newton gets more comfortable with switching into better plays - and given his comfort level on running plays - it's hard to think about taking the ball out of his hands.

"You want the ball in your best player's hand, the guy that can make plays for you," Rivera said. "He's such a great athlete and got such great ability. You don't ever want to take away his ability to make plays."

JOHNSON PLANS TO PLAY: Defensive end Charles Johnson missed practice Wednesday because of a sore shoulder, but Johnson said he won't miss Sunday's game at the Indianapolis Colts.

"I'll play, even if I miss a few days," said Johnson, who leads Carolina with seven sacks.

Johnson said he took a hit on the back of his shoulder during a gang tackle against the Lions. Also, his right eye still was noticeably red Wednesday from a scratch he suffered against Detroit.

Johnson, however, said he and the defense will be ready to try to make a statement against the winless Colts.

 "We go into every game thinking that, and not just because of who we're playing or their record," he said. "I'm sure they're going to be as hungry as we are, but we're going to try to play our best no matter what their record is."


DIGGING IN: Defensive tackle Andre Neblett surprised many last season by making the Panthers' roster as an undrafted rookie.

This season, he's had to prove himself all over again.

Neblett was inactive for three consecutive games earlier in the season but has been very active over the last four games.

"We have young defensive linemen who are doing a great job, but I knew my opportunity was going to come," Neblett said. "This is football – injuries happen, things happen – and that next guy has to be ready to step into that spot."

Neblett totaled three tackles over the first three games of the season before being inactive for the next three. In his last four games, he's posted eight tackles and recorded his first career sack.

"We had him down for a couple of weeks, but then we had a game where we felt like we needed his quickness. We brought him back up, and he played very well," Rivera said. "He practiced hard – even played guard for us on offense for the scout team. He gave us everything he had, so he deserved the chance. When we gave him the opportunity, he grabbed it and hasn't let go yet."

Neblett said it's been trying at times being behind drafted rookies Sione Fua and Terrell McClain, but it's taught him to try harder.

"It's a business, and whoever is going to step up is going to play," Neblett said. "Basically the message I took from that was, 'Step up and get it done.' I knew I had to respond."

THANKSGIVING PLANS: After the Panthers wrap up an early practice Thursday, they have a standing invitation to spend more time with their coach.

"I opened it up to the players that anybody that didn't have anywhere to go is welcome at my house," Rivera said. "It could either be a real big thing and we don't have enough food, or we might have too much food."

Newton won't be attending because his family is in town for the holiday. It doesn't sound like they'll have too much food left over.
"I just don't want small plates," Newton said. "My plate always seems to be bending at the bottom. By the time it's on the fork, I don't even know what I'm eating.

"It's a collage of food, and it's going to be fun."

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