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Carolina Panthers

Strickly Panthers: Newton has a leg up


CHARLOTTE - When Cam Newton took off on a 16-yard touchdown run in the first quarter of Thursday's preseason game at Cincinnati, his jubilant offensive linemen swarmed him in celebration.

Left guard Jordan Gross hung around to give him a second slap on the back.

"It was awesome," Gross said. "I was in a division with a guy named Mike Vick for so long, and you were jealous of their linemen because of the double threat he presented. It makes your job easier."

Newton's progress and his potential, combined with injury concerns that slowed Jimmy Clausen in the Panthers' return to practice Saturday, prompted head coach Ron Rivera to go ahead and name Newton the starter for Thursday's preseason finale against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

"The biggest thing that came out of it was seeing what his potential can be," Rivera said. "I know potential is a scary word, but the young man just continues to progress and did some really good things. When we watched the tape, we came away feeling good about what we could be on offense."

While Clausen was slowed Saturday by a knee and thigh injury suffered late in the fourth quarter at Cincinnati, nothing could slow Newton when he took off and ran against the Bengals.

"When we drafted Cam, I said, 'Man, this is a long ways from Jake Delhomme in the pocket,' " Gross said. "Jake's my guy, but that's what I expected to see."

In Delhomme's seven seasons with the Panthers, his high-water mark for rushing yards in a season was 71. Last season, the four quarterbacks that Carolina employed combined to rush for 82 yards.

Thursday, on just four attempts, Newton rushed for 49 yards.

"That's something that he's good at," center Ryan Kalil said. "When stuff is not open, we try to give him as much time as we can, and then he can make things happen."

If the 16-yard touchdown run had been in a regular season game, it would have qualified as a franchise long for a quarterback, eclipsing Delhomme's 12-yard touchdown run in 2008. Newton also scrambled for 26 yards in the second quarter, which would have eclipsed Chris Weinke's franchise long quarterback run of 23 yards in 2001.

"I thought he made some very good decisions to run the ball," Rivera said. "What you would like to see, especially following the run in the second quarter, is for him to gather himself and maintain his composure. I'm sure he was a little gassed right there, but you would like to see him come back and make another play."

Outside of the running plays, it was mostly a frustrating night for Newton, who called his passing numbers (6-for-19, 75 yards) an "embarrassing stat."

In light of that, Newton even downplayed the touchdown run a touch, saying he simply took what the defense gave him.

"Anytime you get into the end zone, it's a relief, but we need more relief," Newton said. "Three-and-outs and putting our defense in bad situations, that's not acceptable. We've got to keep progressing, keep climbing that mountain."

The mountain is steep for the Panthers with so many young players at key positions and with even veterans rushing to get up to speed on new schemes, but Newton's legs certainly seem built for a tough climb.

"He changes the rush lanes and makes guys be cognizant of him," Kalil said. "He's definitely an added dynamic for the offense."


OTAH BACK AT PRACTICE: Help could be on the way for Newton and the rest of the offense in the form of right tackle Jeff Otah.

Otah hasn't played in a game since Week 14 of the 2009 season because of a knee injury that has refused to heal, but he fully participated in practice Saturday for the first time since early in training camp.

He also sounded like he just might play against the Steelers.

"It's great to be back out here, to be back out here running on the grass and being out here with the guys, getting ready for the Steelers," Otah said. "I feel great. I felt good moving around and felt good cutting. I got to hit some guys and finish some blocks. It was good."

Otah said he didn't think the line would need much time to jell because the group already has good chemistry. His fellow tackle sure hopes he's right.

"We have been struggling," Gross said. "There's a million reasons, a million excuses. It's a new system, new calls and new quarterbacks – new everything. There's definitely a learning curve there, and we have to do it probably three times quicker than we normally would, but that's the job ahead of us.

"The nice thing about all the preseason is that all the stats and negative plays that you don't want to have are erased in a week or so. Then we get one more chance to practice on Thursday, and then it's for real."

ROSTER UPDATE: The Panthers have begun to move toward the 80-man roster they must be down to by Tuesday, now standing at 87 after waiving wide receiver Trent Guy, defensive tackles Tommie Duhart and Louis Ellis, and punter Anthony Santella and signing long snapper Chris Massey.

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