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Carolina Panthers

Strickly Panthers: Newton earns respect


CHARLOTTE - All eyes will be on No. 1 overall pick Cam Newton when he takes the field as the Panthers' starting quarterback for Sunday's season opener at the Arizona Cardinals.

Away from the public eye, Newton's new teammates have been watching him as well, and they've come away impressed with more than just his athletic ability.

"A lot of people want to talk about what's happening to him as a football player, but as a person, I've really seen him grow," head coach Ron Rivera said. "When he came in, he was enthusiastic like all college draft picks are, but as things have gone on, you've seen his seriousness and maturity level."

Rivera recalls Newton's reaction to a poor practice late in training camp, just before his first preseason start Aug. 19 at the Miami Dolphins.

"He beat himself up, and I noticed, so I went to him immediately after bed check, and we spent maybe 45 minutes talking about it," Rivera said. "I asked him, 'Cam, what is this all about?' He said, 'Coach, truthfully it's about letting guys down. I don't want to let Jordan Gross down or Ryan Kalil or Steve Smith or DeAngelo Williams or the defensive players.'

"It was refreshing to see a guy put so much on himself but not for himself. It was for his teammates. I thought that was a real sign of maturity."

Within that conversation, Rivera jokingly asked Newton if he even wanted to start given his frustration, to which Newton quickly pepped up and replied, "Oh no, I want to start."

Newton will start for real Sunday, and he sounds now like he did then.

"I'm happy that I have the opportunity to start," he said. "I'm just trying to put this team in the best situation."

Newton's teammates have little doubt about how he'll handle the bright lights of the regular season.

"I'm not really worried about the whole away-game thing. He's going to handle it very well," Kalil said. "I think a lot of us were kind of curious to see how he would handle being given a lot in a short amount of time. I think he's taken it in stride.

"He has a calm, collected cool about him that I think is inspiring, that a lot of guys get excited about."

Newton is refusing to use the lack of offseason practice opportunities as an excuse for any issues that may arise Sunday. He has been thrust into a difficult set of circumstances, but veteran teammates like Gross appreciate how he has tackled them.

"He hasn't complained about anything, and he's had a lot on his plate," Gross said. "This is my ninth year, and it's been a challenge for me learning this offense this fast, let alone being a rookie or a quarterback. He's really impressed us off the field as much as he has on the field.

"He hasn't really come in saying a lot. He has opened up a little bit, making a few jokes and having some fun, but really he's just worked hard and done what's asked of him."

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