The Day After: Respect for "ultimate competitor" Cam Newton

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CHARLOTTE — While recent results have obviously not reflected what the Panthers were hoping for when they brought quarterback Cam Newton back, Panthers head coach Matt Rhule said Monday he had nothing but respect for the veteran quarterback.

While Rhule didn't get into specifics about their plans at the position for this week's game against the Buccaneers, he did soften some of Sunday's criticism of a fourth-down decision by Newton in the first quarter, and explained at length why he has so much admiration for the 32-year-old quarterback.

"I have absolutely respected, appreciated, and loved every second that Cam's been here," Rhule began. "He works as hard as someone could work. All he ever says to me is, hey, keep coaching me. He wants accountability. He wants to help the team win. So I've enjoyed every second of having him here, and I'm looking forward to seeing him today. He and I usually sit down each Tuesday, one-on-one for an hour or so, and just talk. I've learned so much from him. I hate that we haven't been able to get a win for him while he was here. I thought he played well enough in the Washington game for us to win, I thought defensively we didn't quite play well enough in that game.

"But I do know that Cam lays it on the line every time he goes out there. And I do know that Cam prepares at a high level every week. And you can learn a lot about somebody, and their true character. For everything people might think they know about Cam Newton, you can learn a lot about who he is as a person, as a man, as a competitor these last four games. There hasn't been one moment, hasn't been one moment where he's been pointing a finger at someone else. Not one moment where he doesn't say to me, hey coach me, get after me. The 0-4 (as a starter this year) or whatever, I'm just worried about this week, and I'd love for us to get a win against a great Buccaneers team this week, and we'll go back to the process of coming up with a plan and executing the plan.

"But make no mistake, this guy is the ultimate competitor. I just hate that we couldn't score more points and win the game. But I'll always look at myself first before I look at anyone else. I think he's a real guy."

Rhule said that, in general, they wanted to "keep building off the good things" Newton was doing, and they'd continue to evaluate the other quarterbacks. Newton has remained a force in the run game, but has struggled since the Washington game, going from a 120.5 passer rating that day to a combined 46.0 rating over the next three.

That has left all options on the table. They're awaiting tests today on Sam Darnold's shoulder to see if he's cleared for contact, and Rhule said that if Darnold was ready, they'd practice him this week.

"I think it's a good opportunity to shake some of the rust off him and see where he's at in the process," Rhule said of Darnold. "I can't say who will be the full-time guy this week until I have more information."

— Rhule said he was also still waiting on word from the team's doctors on kicker Zane Gonzalez's MRI from Monday morning, but he began with the assumption the injury was serious.

He said general manager Scott Fitterer was lining up workouts for kickers as he spoke, and that there were a number of possibilities for the position, including adding one to the active roster and one to the practice squad so they'd have cover there.

Gonzalez suffered a right quad injury in pre-game warmups Sunday and wasn't able to kick against the Bills, forcing them to go for fourth-and-goals and have wide receiver Brandon Zylstra kick off.

— Rhule didn't have the particulars of the medical statuses of players when he spoke to reporters, but his hope was that A.J. Bouye could try to practice this week. He said the reason they didn't put the veteran corner on IR was in hopes of getting him back on the field this season.

— Rhule mentioned wanting to evaluate younger players as he could, though not at the expense of trying to win games. He mentioned a number of guys who played Sunday, and when asked specifically about rookie offensive lineman Brady Christensen, said there was a "possibility" he could play a role this week against the Bucs.

View photos of game action between Carolina and Buffalo in Week 15 of the 2021 season.

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