CHARLOTTE – With his powerful arm and potent legs, Cam Newton can stretch the field like few quarterbacks on the planet.
But winning in the NFL isn't always about making the big play in terms of yards gained. Sometimes it's about a small gain that moves the chains. Sometimes it's about avoiding a big negative play.
"As an offense, we've just got to maximize each and every play," Newton said Wednesday, midway through the Panthers' three weeks of organized team activities. "We've got explosive players on this team, but we have to be smart about managing the football.
"I might be sounding like a broken record, but it's about maximizing every play."
Newton already has broken a myriad of records, amassing more passing yards through two seasons than anyone in NFL history. But the record that Newton cares most about – the win-loss record – has been broken by his standards.
The Panthers improved by four victories in Newton's first season and by a victory in his second, but last year's 7-9 record isn't what the man who won national championships in each of his final two college seasons has in mind.
"This league is about win, win, win, no matter what," Newton said. "This city and state are (hungry) for a winning season. As a player, you owe that to the fans and to yourself, especially with all the hard work that everybody's been putting in during the offseason.
"I'm not going to get into the logistics of finishing the season because that's months and months away. But I do feel that if we do what we're capable of doing with maximizing each and every play and being smart about it, I think everything else will take care of itself."
Newton played smarter football down the stretch last season, and it showed on the scoreboard. He accounted for 13 touchdowns and 13 turnovers during the Panthers' first 10 games, when Carolina went 2-8. Over the final six games, when the Panthers went 5-1, Newton accounted for 14 touchdowns and two turnovers.
"I learned as the season went on, and that's the phase that I'm still in now," Newton said. "I have to be mature in plays. If it's third-and-short, let's get a first down. If a play downfield is called, I have to be mindful enough to take a checkdown if it's not there."
That crucial process has continued during the offseason, with an augmented coaching lineup at Newton's disposal. Gone is offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski, who left to become Cleveland Browns head coach. Still around are familiar faces in offensive coordinator Mike Shula – who served as quarterbacks coach for Newton's first two seasons – and quarterbacks coach Ken Dorsey, who was a pro scout for the Panthers the last two seasons.
Newton said Shula has simplified the verbiage in the play calls, but the plays themselves remain largely the same.
"It's been exciting since Coach Shula has been at OC," Newton said. "We're not changing much. We're just trying to sharpen up the blade with the things we've already put in.
"Ken Dorsey has been doing an unbelievable job in helping the quarterbacks out. Everybody has had a fresh attitude when it comes to being smart and executing the offense."
There's nothing revolutionary about offenses focusing on being more efficient, but with a quarterback possessing a revolutionary skill set under center, a little improvement can go a long ways.
"If we do what we're capable of doing and maximize each and every play on offense, defense and special teams," Newton said, "the sky is the limit."