CHARLOTTE – Cam Newton is pain free, but he isn't home free.
Head coach Ron Rivera said Newton is "on target" and "probably" will be ready to start Sunday against the Cleveland Browns barring a setback, but both Rivera and Newton believe it best to not rush things.
"I don't want to say yes and then suddenly we have a setback. We want to go through the process and make sure we do things the right way," Rivera said. "I would say he's on target. He had a good day today. He looked good out there, took the reps he was supposed to. He threw a 65-yard bomb that was a thing of beauty.
"But we're going through the process. He did a few more things, and we'll evaluate the tape and take a real good look to make sure he's fine. We did some more things with him that we didn't do yesterday, and we'll increase that again tomorrow to make sure he's really where he needs to be. Then we'll double-check him on Saturday morning."
Newton was a full participant in practice Thursday, nine days after fracturing two bones in his back in a two-car accident on his way to Bank of America Stadium. It comes as no surprise that his coach is preaching patience with his situation but came as somewhat of a surprise that Newton himself is taking the same approach.
Leading up to Week 1, when Rivera opted to start Derek Anderson as Newton continued to heal from a rib fracture, Rivera talked openly about Newton's determination to not miss a game.
"From Week 1 until the week we're in now, I've grown up," Newton said. "The thing you have to understand is just do the things that you can control. The thing I can control is getting my tail up as early as I can for treatment and staying as late as I can with respect to these guys' lives outside of football to keep treating me.
"I'm not going to put this team in harm's way. If I can play, we all know that I want to play. But at the end of the day, I won't jeopardize what we have an opportunity to do."
Added Rivera: "This has been a strange year for him. He's never been bumped up, nicked up and injured the way he has been this year. He's a tough-minded young man. He wants to play every time and get on the field every opportunity he can, but he's had to take a couple of steps back."
All the rehab is paying off. Newton said he's pain free, something that's been evident with the way he's moved around on the practice field the last two days.
"My main focus is to capitalize on each and every opportunity to get better. Whether I play or don't play, the truth of the matter is I need to be 100 percent," Newton said. "I'm fine either way it goes. I don't want this to be a distraction. We've got our hands full with a great team as Cleveland as it is. I don't think we're worried about who is starting at quarterback. I think we're both ready."
Anderson played well last week while leading the Panthers to a 19-17 victory over Tampa Bay, but the week before, Newton along with the rest of the team posted the best performance of the season in a 41-10 victory at New Orleans.
"D.A. has done a great job," Newton said. "Whoever gets the start, the team is going to back 110 percent. That's the best thing about this situation."