Panthers want to start Cam Newton

SPARTANBURG, S.C. -- Over the past two days, I’ve watched Carolina rookie quarterback Cam Newton go through two padded practices and one walkthrough. I’m not ready to declare he’s going to be the next great quarterback and I’m sure not ready to say he’s going to be a flop.

It’s simply way too early to tell. That opinion is shared by the coaching staff, front-office people and players I talked to Monday and Tuesday. They’ve seen some flashes of promise from Newton, but the Panthers don’t know for certain yet what they have.

But here’s what I do know with certainty. The people who make the big decisions on the coaching staff and in the front office came to camp hoping Newton would pick things up fairly quickly and could be the opening-day starter. With each passing day, there’s growing optimism that will happen.

Those same people would like nothing better than to hand Newton the ball when the regular season opens at Arizona in September. The feeling -- and the hope -- within the organization is that will happen if Newton continues to progress the way he has so far.

It makes total sense. Just watching Newton and second-year pro Jimmy Clausen practice, you could see a big difference. Newton brings dynamic elements -- a big arm and running ability. Clausen, even in his good times, isn’t anything close to spectacular. If Newton shows he clearly is not ready, the Panthers will fall back on Clausen for at least the short term.

But they’re hoping that doesn’t happen and they’ve worked hard to put Newton in a position where he won’t have to carry the team immediately and can have some instant success. The Panthers made it a point to keep running back DeAngelo Williams and the plan is to pair him with Jonathan Stewart. In 2009, those two each rushed for 1,110 yards.

They did it behind an offensive line that’s pretty similar to what it was in 2009 and the line should be far better than 2010 because right tackle Jeff Otah is returning after missing last season with an injury. The Panthers also brought in pass-catching tight ends Greg Olsen and Jeremy Shockey.

They kept veteran wide receiver Steve Smith after there was offseason speculation he might be traded. The Panthers also have high hopes for second-year receivers David Gettis, Brandon LaFell and Armanti Edwards.

They’re pretty much set everywhere on offense, except for quarterback. They’ve got Newton and Clausen and they just signed veteran Derek Anderson. If Anderson doesn’t excite you, that’s good. Signing Anderson was done for Newton’s benefit. The Panthers aren’t all that excited about Anderson either. They didn’t want to bring in someone who would be a threat to Newton.

They wanted a guy with a little experience to help Newton and Clausen learn coordinator Rob Chudzinski’s offense. Anderson played under Chudzinski in Cleveland and knows the system. In a best-case scenario, Anderson never even gets on the field.

In a best-case scenario, Newton has a decent training camp and preseason. That’s really all it’s going to take for him to earn the starting job. The Panthers want to give it to him. Newton just needs to step forward a bit and claim it.