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The next step for Cam Newton comes to pass


CHARLOTTE – It had been nearly six months since Cam Newton had thrown a pass for all to see – an incomplete pass on fourth down as he was hit that ended the Panthers' bid to realistically remain in the playoff hunt by knocking off the Saints.

Newton's throwing shoulder had given every ounce that it could, and he spent the Panthers' final two games of the 2018 season as a spectator.

Tuesday, Newton was a spectator no more.

Tuesday, Newton was a spectator no more.

A few carefully controlled forward passes on the practice fields adjacent to Bank of America Stadium don't exactly rank with the Monday Night Football stage that Newton threw passes on late last season, but given the circumstances it did qualify as a pretty big deal.

"Seeing him throw a little bit was really cool – getting the ball in his hands and letting him go out there and whip it around a little bit," running back Christian McCaffrey said. "It meant a lot."

McCaffrey was the first teammate to catch a Newton pass at Tuesday's highly anticipated first practice of minicamp, but it wasn't Newton's first pass of the day. With 30-some media members tracking his every move from an incline at the opposite end of the practice field, Newton tossed his first of 30-some passes on the day to assistant equipment manager Greg Almond, a series of short shots to someone who has served as a warm-up target for Newton since his rookie year.

Newton soon followed with his longest passes of the day, a pair of 25-yarders to another staff member who also fielded similar throws from Carolina's other quarterbacks during a footwork drill.

Next Newton connected with McCaffrey, an 8-yard toss in the flat, for his first of eight tosses to teammates. This is where Newton's day began to vary from that of his fellow quarterbacks, who took part in the same drill but threw to targets running routes. Newton's throws were to stationary targets.

And Newton's days as a spectator aren't totally done. When the Panthers transitioned into offense vs. defense drills, Newton didn't take part.

"He did exactly what we scripted out – that was for him to make some targeted throws – and we'll see how he feels later on today and how he feels tomorrow," head coach Ron Rivera said. "You guys could hear it – he brought a little energy."

Ah yes, that Newton energy. Newton had a little extra pep in his step Tuesday, and who could blame him? Two shoulder procedures in two calendar years is no joke for a quarterback, and Newton is doing everything in his power to come back with the shoulder in the best shape humanly possible.

"He's done a heck of a job working hard, and we're all happy to have him out here," McCaffrey said. "Obviously he brings a lot of energy to the team, and to have him out here at practice is always fun."

Newton publically debuted a more efficient-looking throwing motion Tuesday, one that could put less stress on the shoulder.

"He throws a nice, tight spiral when everything is the way it's supposed to be, and that's what he's working for," said Rivera, whose job as a player in the 1980s was to stop quarterbacks. "To be honest, I'm not the guy to talk about quarterbacks' mechanics. Tackling? I could give you a rundown on tackling. Throwing? That would not be fair."

It also wouldn't be fair to say that Newton's comeback is complete.

Yes, it's a decidedly positive sign that he's throwing passes six weeks before training camp, during the final week of offseason workouts.

Yes, the arrow is pointing up after a season that ended on a downward spiral.

And yes, it seems like this latest chapter in Cam Newton's football journey is trending toward a happy ending.

But while few offseason passes mean more than the ones Newton threw Tuesday, we're still nearly three months from Newton throwing regular season passes.

"He's done a great job, and we're real excited about it," Rivera said. "But like I've said, this is just the first step of many."

View photos of Cam Newton throwing during the first day of Panthers Minicamp.