CHARLOTTE – On Day Two of the Panthers' voluntary offseason program, quarterback Cam Newton stood in the press conference room and spoke like the veteran he is.
"The bonding started yesterday," Newton said. "These days are very important."
These days, Newton is recovering from ankle surgery performed March 19, and he's excited about his progress.
"The ankle is great. We are moving at a rapid pace," Newton said. "It wasn't 100 percent for a long time. I really didn't know what 100 percent felt like. I was just dealing with the pain. I was just going out there and playing. It's scary to know that it will be a significant difference going forward."
He won't be able to test out his new and improved ankle until training camp, but in the meantime, Newton is finding other ways to improve.
"I'm the type of guy that always has to do something – workout, workout, workout no matter the time or the day," Newton said. "But this injury has kind of settled me down to say, 'Alright, how can I get better in a way that I haven't in years past?'
"I've been watching more film than ever, I've been asking more questions than ever. I'm taking the approach like I'm a rookie."
That approach will serve Newton well as he embarks on his fourth NFL season and faces new demands fresh off his first playoff appearance and division title. His top four wide receivers from last season are gone.
"Who wouldn't be surprised?" Newton said.
Two Panthers icons and leaders of the offense – left tackle Jordan Gross and wide receiver Steve Smith – are gone.
"I have to take more ownership of the offense," Newton said. "And I will."
Newton's ascension into a prominent leadership role began at the start of last season, when he was named one of the six team captains for the first time in his career.
He understands that his leadership role will expand even further in 2014.
"I'm the team leader of this organization," Newton said. "I'm excited to take this challenge to be this team's leader. More has been put on my plate to be a leader of men.
"I'm doing the proper and necessary things to reach out to players like never before, but I can't do it on my own. I need Ryan Kalil, I need Thomas Davis, I need Charles Johnson, I need Greg Hardy, I need Luuuuke Kuechly more than ever now."
He'll also need newly acquired wide receivers Jerricho Cotchery, Jason Avant and Tiquan Underwood to assimilate and quickly settle into their roles. The initial impressions they made on the Panthers' quarterback and leader were encouraging.
"Those guys are hungry. That's what you want to see, that's what we're here for," Newton said. "Everybody is excited. Everybody is excited to accept the challenge. Everybody is trying to find and know their roles so they can perfect it. That's what it is all about."
"We all are going to have to come together and give everyone what they're expecting."