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Panthers' Cam Newton working on improving shoulder strength, flexibility

Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton has spent much of the offseason in Atlanta working on the strength and flexibility of his throwing shoulder, which was a factor in the worst season of his career in 2016.

The 2015 NFL MVP got an MRI on his right shoulder in mid-December that showed no structural damage, but the shoulder was sore enough that Newton didn't throw early in the week during practice prior to the final three games.

Since the end of the season, Newton has continued to work on improving the shoulder with strength and conditioning experts in his hometown.

"I'd like to see him more flexible more than anything else, especially through the shoulders,'' Carolina coach Ron Rivera told reporters at the NFL combine in Indianapolis on Thursday.

"That seemed to be where he had a lot of his problems, is getting that shoulder strength back up, getting that shoulder flexibility back, more so than anything else.''

Newton completed only 47.6 percent of his passes over the final seven games, including 37.04 against San Diego, which was the second-worst percentage of his career.

He finished the season with a career-low 52.9 completion percentage, throwing only 19 touchdowns just a year after a career-best 35.

Rivera said he'll be excited to see how Newton has progressed when players report for voluntary offseason workouts on April 17.

Rivera said he'd also like to see the 6-5 quarterback, who played around 260 pounds last season, "continue to keep himself at a specific weight that he feels comfortable.''

Rivera didn't say what that weight would be.

He added that the focus this offseason remains on evolving the offense to where Newton is less of a necessity in the running game out of the read-option than he has been since Carolina made him the top pick of the 2011 draft.

Newton's 3,566 rushing yards and 48 rushing touchdowns are the most by a quarterback since 2011. He also has been hit far more times than any quarterback in the league during that span because of his involvement in the running game.

Rivera has no doubt Newton will buy into the new philosophy that has Carolina looking strongly at running backs at the combine.

"He wants the football, but again, we have to be very dogged in terms of what we're going to do with him and how we're going to do it,'' Rivera said. "We have to pick and choose. It's got to be the right situation and circumstance [for him to run].

"But again, he wants to succeed. He wants to do things to help this football team win, and I believe he's going to do the things he needs to do, and the right thing.''

General manager Dave Gettleman said on Wednesday that from everything he understood, Newton was in Atlanta "doing well.''

Asked specifically about Newton spending much of last offseason filming his Nickelodeon television show "All in With Cam Newton'' -- something he doesn't seem to be doing this year -- Gettleman said that players can do whatever they want with their free time.

"Some guys like to play video games,'' he said. "Some guys like to do Nickelodeon shows.''