Hits will keep coming for Cam Newton

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- It's a number you've probably already heard or seen, one you will hear and see more as the Carolina Panthers get closer to Sunday's opener at Tampa Bay.

The number is 467.

That's how many times quarterback Cam Newton has been hit the past three seasons. It's significant because no other NFL quarterback has been hit more than 230 times during that span.

It's even more significant because Newton is coming off March surgery to tighten the ligaments in his left ankle and has fractured ribs suffered in an Aug. 22 exhibition loss to New England.

Why is the number, compiled by ESPN Stats and Information, so high? The simple answer: Running is a big part of Newton's game, whether it's the read-option or a scramble or because he holds onto the ball too long.

He has accounted for 31.2 percent of Carolina's rush offense since being selected with the first pick of the 2011 draft. That's the highest percentage for a team by a quarterback.

He has 28 rushing touchdowns during that span. The next highest are Colin Kaepernick and Andrew Luck with seven. The only two players with more are running backs Marshawn Lynch of Seattle and Minnesota's Adrian Peterson.

Newton also doesn't slide and seldom runs out of bounds. He often takes on tacklers like a fullback, turning his 6-foot-5, 245-pound frame into a weapon to get every yard he can.

He doesn't plan to change just because of the injuries.

"I am who I am,'' Newton said recently. "This is a physical sport and needs to be played that way.''

There's a good chance Newton will have to run on Sunday despite the ribs. He ran 11 times, his second-highest total of 2013, in the seventh game at Tampa. The Buccaneers through free agency have strengthened already one of the league's best defensive fronts, anchored by Pro Bowler Gerald McCoy.

Newton doesn't appear concerned. He likes challenges. His teammates say there are no concerns,. Tight end Greg Olsen called his quarterback a "tough guy.'' Left tackle Byron Bell called him a "fighter.''

How effective Newton will be remains to be seen. He showed great range of motion dancing to a rap song during warmups on Wednesday, but he didn't throw a pass or take a rep during practice because he was sore.

Coach Ron Rivera says he expects Newton to start. He also expects the Panthers to move forward with the same game plan as usual, which means Newton at some point will get hit number 468.

Probably 469, 470 and so on considering he ran 11 times at Tampa last season.

"It's his style of play,'' Rivera said. "You'd like to see him develop another style or taper his style and control it. But again, that's who he is. If you take too much away from him and take too much, it changes his game.

"But I do think it's something he's going to have to learn as he matures as a quarterback on how to slide, how to get rid of the ball, how to not take those kinds of hits.''

In other words, 467 is a lot of hits in three years.

"He's still standing?'' tight end Ed Dickson said jokingly when asked what that many meant to him.

Then he added, "You can't take the ball out of his hands. He makes us better running the ball and throwing the ball.''

Dickson took it one step forward, saying Newton ran just as well as running backs DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart and Mike Tolbert.

"When he's out there, we're definitely a better team,'' he said.

Backup quarterback Derek Anderson reminded Newton makes a lot of plays because he's not afraid to get hit.

"Then he runs 60 yards for a touchdown,'' he said. "There's not a lot of guys that can do that.''

Center Ryan Kalil said Newton has handled the hits because "he's a tough guy, maybe as tough as I've been around.''

Kalil also jokingly reminded that centers are tough.

"I'm going to start doing some numbers on the times I've been rolled up, had fingers smashed, hit in the back,'' he said. "That's an interesting number.

"Yeah, [Newton's] a very active player. He's a guy that runs around. He can do a lot of things with the ball. With that comes the hits.''