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Newton, offense back to basics


CHARLOTTE – When Jon Gruden reeled off a 21-syllable play call during his Quarterback Camp feature with Cam Newton prior to the 2011 NFL Draft, Newton countered that a similar play at Auburn might simply be called "36."

"Our method is, 'Simplistic means fast,'" Newton said.

The method certainly worked at Auburn, where Newton won the national title and Heisman Trophy. Now the Panthers have decided to go with a similarly simple approach under first-year offensive coordinator Mike Shula.

The entire offense has responded positively to the abbreviated verbiage throughout the offseason training program and hopes it pays dividends come the regular season.

"It's not saying a novel or saying a riddle. It's calling the play, executing it and performing," Newton said. "I'll give you an example: 'Twins right, key left, 631, smash, M,' sounds completely different than 'Twins right, Tampa.' That's the same exact play.

"This helps get plays translated to the offense and on the ball as quickly as possible, and that's what Coach Shula has been doing. It's about executing and playing fast. We don't want to trick ourselves; we want to trick the defense."

Newton handled the transition to notoriously long NFL play calls seamlessly, but Shula – who was Alabama's head coach for four seasons – is giving this approach the old college try.

"It's just a matter of Coach Shula being quarterbacks coach last year and being in the room and seeing where he thought he could do some things differently now that he gets to make the calls," center Ryan Kalil said. "As an offense, we want to play a little bit faster, and simplifying the terminology helps us get up to the line, make the call and play faster."

Speaking of faster, Newton said he's quickly getting up to speed with new weapons like wide receiver Ted Ginn and running back Kenjon Barner. In the case of Ginn, a national championship hurdler in high school, Newton has vowed to not allow Ginn to outrun one of his passes again after it happened in a recent practice.

"I'm very comfortable (with the Panthers' offensive additions), and that's a credit to what Coach Shula and (quarterbacks coach) Ken Dorsey have done," Newton said. "Each and every offensive coach we have has spent a lot of time getting everybody on the same page and getting everybody doing the things that they're comfortable with and good at doing."

Barner, meanwhile, is a part of the plan to simplify things this season. Newton believes that getting back to basics means getting back to the running game in a big way. Last season, he became the first quarterback to lead an NFL team in rushing since 2000 – a testament to his ability but not necessarily a winning formula.

"For us, the running game is key," Newton said. "In years past, success for the Carolina Panthers has meant getting our running backs involved in the game early and letting those guys do what they do. I feel like we have an unbelievable group, especially with the addition of Kenjon and other guys that are capable of running the ball as well as catching it out of the backfield.

"We have to use that to continuously keep the defense honest. Everyone knows we have playmakers on the offensive side of the ball, but in order for us to be successful, we have to run the football. We will run the football."

From learning the playbook to learning what will work best come game day, that's what the offseason is all about. And even if the changes implemented this offseason aren't dramatic, Newton believes they can help the Panthers produce dramatically different results on Sundays this fall.

"The main focus for us has been to understand our roles and understand our assignments each and every play," Newton said. "We've been running the same system going on three years now, so it's time for us to perfect our craft. That's what we're out here each and every day trying to do."

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