Cam Newton voted a team captain

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Carolina Panthers voted quarterback Cam Newton a team captain for the first time in his brief NFL career.

That is significant for the first pick of the 2011 draft and former Heisman Trophy winner because his leadership has been in question throughout the preseason. Newton was not available for comment before Thursday's practice, but he addressed the possibility of being a captain last month at training camp in Spartanburg, S.C.

"I recognize, and everyone knows around the league, when you're a team captain, that's not just a patch on the jersey," Newton said. "You're holding yourself to a higher standard with being accountable. I'm going about it each and every day and trying to make that happen."

Coach Ron Rivera revealed his captains before practice after toying with reporters that "it's a secret." The other five are wide receiver Steve Smith, left tackle Jordan Gross, center Ryan Kalil, linebacker Thomas Davis and linebacker Luke Kuechly.

Rivera said he told the players Gross and Smith were "team captain emeritus,'' meaning they were automatically captains and there were only four open votes.

He said the selection of Newton was significant.

"I think it's significant because it's talking about his growth and I've been asked that question all through training camp,'' Rivera said. "This is part of his growth is that the continues to step up and show his leadership abilities. And he plays a position that you most certainly are put into that position of being a leader.''

Last year's team had five captains. Rivera added one when he realized league rules allow six and is using the top six vote-getters this season instead of two on offense, two on defense and one on special teams.

Newton being voted in was another indication his teammates support him after two losing seasons.

"I'm excited about who he's becoming," Rivera said. "Last year, you could see he was growing. Cam is still growing, but he's also a little more mature a little more comfortable, a little more savvy.

"He's learned a lot of things, and he can do those things that can help us, that can give us an opportunity to win football games."

Winning is what Newton wants more than the honor of being captain. Asked Wednesday if he knew who the captains were, he said, "Have no clue."

"I'm not worried about captains right now," he continued. "There's other bigger fish in the sea right now for me."