SPARTANBURG, S.C. -- Jerricho Cotchery grew up an Alabama fan, which means he grew up not liking Auburn.
"Great leader. Great leader,'' Cotchery said on Saturday. "Just watching him and the way he led that team to a championship that year, I just knew there was something special about him. When I met him I got to see that.''
This time last year, Newton was being questioned for his lack of leadership after going 6-10 and 7-9. That changed after a 12-4 season and second trip to the Pro Bowl.
Now the question is how far will the Panthers fall after losing their top four receivers from last season.
Cotchery, 31, was signed as a free agent out of Pittsburgh to help make sure there isn't a fall. He won't replace Steve Smith, the team's all-time leading receiver who was cut, in terms of intensity and making dynamic plays.
But he will replace Smith in terms of veteran leadership.
"I feel comfortable being the old guy,'' said Cotchery, entering his 11th training camp. "It's crazy how it's worked out for me. Even in my third year I was considered the old guy. So I feel comfortable with it and helping the guys in any way I can to get better.''
That doesn't sit well with some here. Tight end Greg Olsen tweeted earlier in the week that he was "tired'' of hearing Newton has nobody to throw to.
Cotchery doesn't take the negativity so personal, part of what makes him such a good leader.
"To be understanding, you had four guys leave,'' Cotchery said. "You had the guy that is probably the best player to play in this organization leave. So those questions are going to naturally come up, so I understand it from that viewpoint.
"You don't know much about the guys that are coming in, so I'm understanding from that perspective. I don't take any of those things to heart. I just know we have a good, hard-working group. We'll let everything play out.''
So far Cotchery likes what he's seen. He says the new receivers are extremely close for a group that didn't really know each other until a few months ago. He says that will help not only the passing game, but the entire offense.
But it all starts with Newton -- even if he did go to Auburn.
"There's a confidence he brings to the huddle, that he brings to the team that you know you're going to be OK,'' said Cotchery, a native of Birmingham, Ala. "That's what I've seen in the great ones.''