Cam Newton looking forward to '14

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton says he is on a "rapid'' pace to recover from surgery to repair ligament damage in his left ankle.

He's also on the fast track to getting to know a new group of wide receivers after losing his top four during the offseason.

"With our first meeting out there yesterday, to see everybody split up, I felt like that lost kid that was in detention and can't go to recess,'' Newton said Tuesday, the second day of Carolina's offseason workout program. He was commenting publicly on his new receiving targets for the first time since the offseason shakeup.

"I was looking at those guys helplessly walking back to the training room. It's all for a good cause. I need to get 100 percent for myself, but my production as far as how I can get better does not stop.''

Newton was wearing a walking boot that he said was entirely for precautionary purposes. He will split time during the first part of OTAs between Charlotte and Auburn, where he is taking classes to complete his degree.

While he was "surprised'' by the release of Steve Smith, the team's all-time leading receiver, and the loss of Brandon LaFell, Ted Ginn Jr. and Domenik Hixon in free agency, Newton is excited about the possibilities with his new receivers.

He will use this time getting to know newcomers Jerricho Cotchery (Pittsburgh), Jason Avant (Philadelphia) and Tiquan Underwood (Tampa Bay), as well as young receivers Marvin McNutt and Tavarres King, who were buried on the bench last season.

"The bonding starts now,'' Newton said. "These days are very important, especially with my limitations as far as trying to graduate school and trying to make the most of my situation. The team is doing great. The turnout has been good. We hope to see 100 percent turnout by the end of OTAs.''

Newton said he's taking advantage of not being able to work out to focus on the mental aspects of the game. He said he's watched more film and asked more questions than ever.

"There's a lot of things from yesterday in meeting with Coach [Ken] Dorsey, in numerous talks with him, that I need to get better at,'' Newton said of Carolina's quarterback coach. "There's things that I did last year that can't roll over into this year.

"I have to take more ownership in this offense, and I will.''

He also acknowledged he has to take even more of a leadership role.

"More has been given to me on my plate to say you have to be a leader of men, doing the proper and necessary things to reach out to players like never before,'' Newton said.

Newton downplayed speculation that his relationship with Smith led to the team releasing the receiver.

"When is there a situation where there is not speculation or rumor?'' he said. "Did it catch me by surprise? It did. It caught all of us by surprise. If you were in the 704 (area code) it caught you by surprise.

"But being that we did talk and still do talk, I am wishing him much success.''

Smith, 34, signed with the Baltimore Ravens, a day after his release.

"Hopefully, when we play the Baltimore Ravens it will be [blood and] guts and whatever he said on both sides,'' Newton said. "We understand what Steve Smith was and what he brought to this community, and it was a hard-nosed mentality.

"A lot of players up under him learned not to take anything for granted. Even though you have whatever you may have, enjoy this game. And I'm doing it."

Newton hopes to enjoy the game even more once the ankle is healed. Although he couldn't pinpoint when he first injured it, he acknowledged he hasn't been 100 percent since his final year at Auburn.

"It wasn't 100 percent for a long time,'' Newton said. "It was a lot of conversation on my part where I really didn't know what 100 percent felt like. I was just dealing with the pain without any other anti-inflammatory, no pain killer or anything.

"I was just going out there and playing. It's scary to know there will be a significant difference moving forward, but it's not going to happen by itself.''

Rehabilitation is expected to take up to four months, although Newton hopes to be throwing sooner than that.

"I'm trying to throw as soon as possible,'' he said. "I can give no date. The stint was four months. I know I will be back walking by then, but as far as being 100 percent functional, who knows. I'm trying to do everything I can from rehabilitation and go everything I can over and beyond just so I can get back.''

The Panthers have said they plan to exercise the fifth-year option on Newton, the first pick of the 2011 draft. They have until May 3 to make the move.

Newton has no problem with Carolina's decision, although his ultimate goal is a long-term contract.

His immediate goal is to help the Panthers to consecutive winning seasons for the first time in team history.

"I'm the quarterback for the Carolina Panthers/football player,'' Newton said. "My job is to execute and be the best player I can be for the Carolina Panthers organization, the Carolina Panthers community and represent my name and my team.

"I'm trying to get back to the playoffs and do something the Carolina Panthers haven't done in back-to-back years.''