Cam progressing ahead of schedule

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton participated in seven-on-seven drills Thursday for the first time since undergoing surgery on his left ankle in March.

That put the two-time Pro Bowl selection about a month ahead of schedule on his rehabilitation, which initially was supposed to keep him from such drills until training camp in late July.

"Real sluggish,'' Newton said as the Panthers concluded a three-day minicamp, their final tune-up before training camp. "My mind was moving faster than my body, but that comes with time.

"Excited to get back out there. Not 100 percent yet, but any progress is good progress.''

Newton started slowly, completing only three of his first 10 pass attempts with one interception. But he dialed it in at the end, completing his final five attempts to finish 8-for-15.

Being involved was as symbolic as it was therapeutic.

"Absolutely,'' Newton said. "Anytime you can get back and make a step forward, and for me to have the opportunity to do seven-on-seven today is a step forward.''

Newton took all of his snaps from the shotgun just as it was scripted to limit his movement in the ankle, which is expected to be stronger than ever with the ligaments tightened. He's not worried about the next step, which will be movement in the pocket, although the Panthers plan to limit his runs in camp.

'That's not a problem for me,'' Newton said. "I'm feeling better than I thought I would at this point looking at the calendar. Right now it's trying to get 100 percent.''

Newton was given medical clearance for seven-on-seven drills following Wednesday's practice. Nobody knew the plan for him to participate on Thursday except for head coach Ron Rivera and his assistants who had to script a game plan for the franchise quarterback.

"It was exciting to watch Cam get his first throws with some sort of team activity,'' Rivera said. "He was a little high, a little eager. He talked about feeling like he'd been cooped up and finally getting a chance to spread his wings a little bit.

"Made some good decisions. Made the right reads. Just didn't deliver the ball where he needed to. That will come with time. The healthier he gets, the better he gets, the more he'll be in tune with what he needs to do.''

Rivera said it was important to get Newton onto the field before the team breaks for vacation. If anything, it was symbolic.

"Because it just kind of shows the team that he's coming, he's getting ready and he's working hard to get himself ready,'' he said. "Nobody expected him to be out here today except for me.

"But it was good to see him out there. It was good to see his teammates see him out there.''

Newton will remain in Charlotte rehabbing the ankle for most of the next month before the team has to report on July 24, with the first practice in Spartanburg, S.C. two days later.

First-round draft pick Kelvin Benjamin and many of his receivers also will be in town, so Rivera expects they'll work on their timing on their own.

Newton was excited that he actually got better as practice went on.

"Just trying to make the next rep better than the last rep,'' he said. "That's been my mentality to this point.''