Cam Newton looks rusty but not worried

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Cam Newton dropped back, looked to his left and threw a somewhat wobbly pass that sailed high and through the hands of wide receiver Tavarres King.

I mention this because it was Newton's first pass in team drills since he underwent surgery in March to tighten the ligaments in his left ankle.

But don't read too much into that as the Carolina Panthers held their first practice of training camp on Friday night with Fan Fest at Bank of America Stadium.

While Newton looked rusty at times, that was to be expected after the long layoff. He also had good moments, like connecting with first-round draft pick Kelvin Benjamin for a deep pass.

The only potentially scary moment came when Newton walked away with a slight limp after stepping into a throw that wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery dropped. Trainer Ryan Vermillion quickly checked him out and gave him clearance to return.

"Just precautionary,'' Newton said. "I can't stress enough that I'm not 100 percent yet. I'm treating it day in and day out.''

Coach Ron Rivera isn't concerned at all that Newton will be 100 percent when the season begins. He's putting no limits on the first pick of the 2011 draft as camp moves to Wofford College in Spartanburg, S.C. , on Saturday.

"He's working through it,'' Rivera said. "This is all a part of his rehab, to get out and work it now. The doctor feels very confident about his ankle. Now it's just a matter of getting in shape and getting that ankle stronger.

"I'm not concerned at all. Based on what I'm being told and from what I'm seeing, I'm excited about it.''

Newton was excited just to be practicing full after being limited for most of offseason workouts. He fed off the energy of the estimated 36,315 fans.

During special team drills, Newton took time in the opposite end zone getting the fans revved up. He took a bow at the end of the drill and sprinted to midfield, drawing another cheer.

When wide receiver Brenton Bersin caught a deep sideline pass from backup quarterback Derek Anderson, Newton sprinted more than 40 yards to the end zone to congratulate him.

"They hold us accountable and we have to put a product on the field so the whole Carolinas can be happy about it,'' Newton said.

One of the biggest questions leading into camp was whether Newton would be rusty with a new set of receivers after Steve Smith was cut and the next three were lost in free agency. Overall, Rivera was pleased.

"He was a little rusty,'' the fourth-year coach said of Newton. "He struggled in terms of his quarterback-to-running back exchange on one play in particular. But it's the first time he's had to work on those techniques.

"He made some nice throws. I was pleased with the wide receivers. I liked what I saw from that bunch.''

Newton's pass to Benjamin was particularly impressive. It also was somewhat symbolic in that the former Florida State standout is the heir apparent to the No. 1 receiver position left open by Smith, the team's all-time leading receiver who is with Baltimore.

Newton and his new receivers have done their best to minimize Smith's absence, working together on their own during the past few weeks before the team reported to make up for time lost while the quarterback rehabbed.

Newton said he thought little about the ankle during the two-hour practice.

"For the most part I was not,'' he said. "But you're reminded after a tweak. It's just timing.''

The good news, Newton has plenty of time to recapture that.