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Carolina Panthers

Strickly Panthers: It's not all on Newton's broad shoulders


CHARLOTTE - On the surface, it might look like quarterback Cam Newton single-handedly willed Auburn to the national championship.

Newton, however, had plenty of help along the way, and he's going to need a double dose of it if the No. 1 overall draft pick is going to win championships for the Carolina Panthers.

"He's not drafted to be a franchise savior; he was drafted to be part of what we do and how we do it," head coach Ron Rivera said moments after the Panthers selected him in the NFL Draft on Thursday.

"If this football team is going to win championships, we're going to get back to running the football the way this team can. The offensive line has got to carry its load. The running backs have got to get back to the way they played before. Our receivers have got to grow up. We've got to play better in a tight-end by committee. We've got to do some things special on special teams, and the defense has got to get better."

General manager Marty Hurney said the Panthers picked Newton out of a worthy pool of players because he's in the best position to make "the most impact on our football team."

When Newton's missile of an arm will first make impact is yet to be determined. It will be determined by how quickly Newton learns the complexities of a pro offense but also by how quickly his teammates respond around him.

"I know the expectations are going to be great, but I'm trying to make sure that everybody understands that this is a team game," Rivera said. "We as a team have to get back to what we're capable of."

Newton seems to understand that he's not simply going to show up and take over. Despite the perception of some observers that Newton believes he's bigger than the team, Newton believes there's nothing bigger than the team from the sound of it.

"I'm going to try to be the best teammate that I can be," Newton said. "I strive to be great, but that comes with knowing my role and staying in my lane. It's not something that's going to be instant, like instant grits. It's more like collard greens, that need to sit and wait.

"But it's going to be a fun process, I know that. I'm just going to embrace this whole thing and see what happens."

Everyone with a stake in the success of the Panthers wishes Newton could produce like he did at Auburn from his first NFL snap, but those with the most at stake recognize that such success will take time.

Obviously, Newton currently qualifies as the Panthers quarterback with the least NFL experience. The roster still includes Matt Moore - the opening-day starter in 2010 – 10-game starter Jimmy Clausen and Tony Pike. Clausen was the team's top pick in 2010 (in the second round), and with the subsequent selection of Newton, Carolina became the first team since 1967 to take a quarterback with its first pick in two consecutive drafts.

"All you've got to do is look back to our recent seasons and see that you need depth at that position," Hurney said. "Jimmy's going to be a good football player, and I believe he's going to play in this league. I know that Jimmy is going to come in and compete, and he's going to practice as hard as he can and play as hard as he can. He's going to give us everything he's got and he's a very talented football player."

It's way too early to predict what quarterback will start the 2011 season opener for the Panthers, and it might not even matter to the bottom line if the rest of the team doesn't elevate its level of play.

But with a little bit of patience and a whole lot of perseverance, the Panthers' newest quarterback could turn his will to win into, well, wins.

"It's not something that's just going to happen from Day One. It's a process, a maturation and a transition," Newton said. "I'm ready to take that on and ride the roads to that."

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