Newton ready to move past ankle concerns

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Versatility is one of the attributes that makes Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton so valuable. It's the reason so much focus was placed on his surgically repaired left ankle during the offseason.

The ankle is fine.

Newton showed that by scrambling -- maybe a few more times than he or coach Ron Rivera wanted him to -- during Sunday night's 28-16 preseason victory over the Kansas City Chiefs.

The confidence that makes Newton's physical attributes more valuable is fine, too.

When asked if the return of a healthy Jonathan Stewart to the ground game might make it less necessary for him to use his legs this season, the fourth-year quarterback went into a humorous dissertation about all of his job qualifications.

"Man, I am trying to win football games,'' said Newton, who has rushed for more yards (2,032) and touchdowns (28) than any NFL quarterback the past three seasons.

"If that is saying, 'Cam, do quarterback sneak every play; Cam, hand the ball off; [Cam], run 20 yards down field like a chicken with his head cut off'; Cam, drop back and throw the ball out of bounds; Cam, go block; Cam, go get somebody water; Cam, ask questions like a reporter; Cam, film the game' ... whatever is asked of me to do, I'm trying to do whatever it takes to win the football game.''

Newton didn't say it, but he's tired of being asked about his ankle and how much he will run this season. He answered that emphatically during the first half of his first live action since his March surgery, spinning and scrambling like he has done his entire career.

He didn't force the issue to the point he tried to run for a first down. He admittedly scrambled too much on one play.

But that was a positive because he walked away without pain.

"Just regaining confidence I had in my ankle,'' Newton said. "I know I had surgery. Everyone knows I had surgery. It’s a constant buildup. I haven’t pressed the throttle all the way down to the floor until today, trying to see how much I can do.

"It was kind of like a shock at first. But after I didn't feel pain .... It's one thing where you’ve got to tell your mind that you’re not hurt.''

It's another to test it and realize you're going to be able to do all the things you did before. Now Newton can focus on regaining the consistency that helped elevate him to a status just under the elite quarterbacks last season.

"Right now, I'm at a point where it can't be flashes no more,'' he said. "It has to be an every-down mentality to move the ball forward.''

That means not missing rookie wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin when he's wide open down the left sideline as Newton did on the third of his five series. Newton called that and his slow start "unacceptable.''

The slow start, at least, shouldn't have come as a surprise. Newton had been held back like a kid not allowed to participate in recess since the surgery. He was anxious -- maybe too anxious.

When he's anxious, he often overthrows receivers.

That he was working with a rebuilt offensive line and a new group of receivers added to the anxiousness.

"He just came to me [before the game] and said, 'I'm a little revved up,' '' Benjamin said. "We were expecting him to be revved up.''

But Newton settled down. After starting 1-for-5 passing for 5 yards, he completed three of his next four passes for 60 yards. He didn't throw an interception, although one telegraphed pass should have been.

And he didn't reinjure the ankle.

"Once he settled in and started to move you saw him gain confidence and he made plays,'' Rivera said.

Rivera thought of pulling Newton after the fourth series. He admittedly was nervous watching Newton spinning out of trouble.

"We’re always concerned about him because that’s who he is,'' Rivera said. "He wants to win and will do what he can to win and will worry about it later.''

And that's ultimately what makes Newton so valuable.