For years, the Carolina Panthers got by at quarterback, and even exceeded expectations when Jake Delhomme was at his best.
But with the emergence of Cam Newton as nothing short of a star, the Panthers are actually able to go into an offseason without having to worry about the position for the first time in ages.
Newton’s rookie season was exceptional, but teammates have been equally impressed with his work ethic. He’s been a fixture at Bank of America Stadium all offseason, and even when he leaves, has planned to work out in Miami with teammates including tight end Greg Olsen as well.
“The expectations are going to be raised because of the success we had on the offensive side of the ball, especially with our young quarterback,” head coach Ron Rivera said. “He handled the situation very well. I think the plan we put into place with developing our quarterback went well. I thought they handled that in a positive manner.
“Showing up early, staying late, doing the extra things that were needed, working certain things out on his own. He really exceeded the expectations of a lot of people. And the success he had was a lot sooner than we did expect from him. But we felt the young man had certain abilities and he most certainly did show them.”
While a lockout-shortened offseason was supposed to be a problem for rookie coaches and quarterbacks, he had the benefit of almost exclusive work with the starters in training camp. Veteran Derek Anderson was a late add, and the “competition” from Jimmy Clausen was never very serious. That allowed plenty of snaps for Newton to develop his game.
“Jimmy Clausen and Cam got all the snaps,” Rivera said. “If there was 100 snaps that day, it was 50-50. Whereas if you’d brought a veteran guy in, you may have cut those reps. So we really didn’t try to cut reps.
“Everything we did was geared toward the development of our young quarterbacks.”
Once it became obvious the offense was Newton’s alone, the Panthers continued to tweak throughout the season, adding in elements of the spread option attack he ran at Auburn, and taking advantage of his unique run-pass skills. Expect more modification this year, especially with a full offseason and staff continuity.
“I don’t know if we changed as much as we added,” Rivera said of offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski’s system. “If you go back and look at the things we did offensively and the different types of pass plays off of play-action, drop-back passes, and then incorporating some of the spread offense that he was used to seeing.
“Our coaches went back and studied some of the Auburn things and looked at that and adapted that to our playbook.”