Cam Newton begins next chapter of career after 'pretty amazing' first

Cam Newton, one of Marty Hurney's first-round picks during his first stint as Panthers GM, appears headed toward a Hall of Fame career. AP Photo/Mike McCarn

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Cam Newton paused when asked what the next chapter of his NFL career will look like.

"What was the first chapter?" the Carolina Panthers quarterback finally said with a smile.

If you ask offensive coordinator Norv Turner, the man charged with orchestrating the start of Chapter 2, Newton's first seven years were "pretty amazing."

Newton was the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2011 and NFL Player of the Year in 2015. He led the Panthers to a runner-up finish in Super Bowl 50, earned three Pro Bowl selections and set new standards for dual-threat quarterbacks.

One could make the case that Newton, 29, already has had a Hall of Fame career if he doesn't play another down.

You also could make the case that Newton needs to win a Super Bowl to cement his place in history just as former Denver quarterback John Elway finally did 14 years into his career.

Newton isn't looking past Sunday's 4:25 p.m. ET (Fox) opener against the Dallas Cowboys. He's focused on putting into motion the things the 66-year-old Turner has worked on the past few months to make him a better quarterback in terms of efficiency and consistency.

"I'm just going to keep my head down and blinders on and stay focused," Newton said. "At this particular point in my career, nothing has pretty much changed. Winning football games. That's the most important stat of all of sports. And that's winning.

"Anything I can do to help this team win is what I'm all about."

Turner saw that from afar before returning to football after a year-and-a-half hiatus. He witnessed it up close in the third preseason game against New England when Newton took off running on a third-and-9 play. He watched with great anticipation from the press box to see if Newton would throw to running back Christian McCaffrey, an easy target about 10 yards away.

He became downright nervous when the franchise player went up and over the defender, landing so hard on his helmet that he was evaluated for a concussion.

"I told him I'd seen him on TV do the 'Superman' look where he pulls his shirt apart," Turner said with a laugh, something he wasn't doing immediately after that play. "You get caught up in the moment and do it and look back and say, 'That probably wasn't the best decision I made.'

"But it says something about the competitive nature."

That competitive nature defines the first seven seasons of Newton's NFL career. That won't change as he begins the next seven.

But will he adjust his game to take less contact so he can play into his 40s like New England's Tom Brady? That's the big question.

Turner's goal is to help make that happen. His goal is to get Newton's career 58.5 completion percentage in the 65-70 percent range, to have the quarterback that has taken more hits than any in the NFL since 2011 avoid some of that contact by getting the ball into the hands of playmakers such as McCaffrey.

His goal is to win a Super Bowl with Newton.

Turner also won't be surprised if Newton's competitive nature clicks in on certain plays just as it did against the Patriots in a game that didn't matter.

"The guys I think about [when I think about Newton] ... obviously the great play Elway made in the Super Bowl where he dives over two guys and spins ... comes to mind," Turner said as he recalled the then-37-year-old Elway going up and over for a touchdown that became known as he "helicopter spin" in Super Bowl XXXII. "There comes a moment where you've got to have it. [Newton has] done that over and over again during his career.

"With the other guys I've been around, it always impressed me that when the push comes to shove the competition means more than the situation. I don't think that will change."

Next step: Super Bowl

This is a pivotal time for the first pick of the 2011 draft in terms of whether he becomes a Hall of Famer or becomes just another quarterback with an impressive résumé.

"The guy has been everything for us except win a Super Bowl, and that is the next step," coach Ron Rivera said. "I really believe that's where we can go. I don't know if it's this year or next, but we've got the makings. But the dude -- I don't think there's a limit as far as his potential.

"And based on what we've seen from the practices and preseason games, I'm pretty excited about that."

Newton completed 68.4 of his passes for 315 yards and a touchdown in three preseason games. He threw only one interception.

He got rid of the ball and into the hands of receivers quicker than he has in the past. He relished when he didn't throw an interception in practice to the point he shouted it to let everyone know during one session.

"He did what we wanted him to do," Turner said. "He was obviously high-percentage. He made good decisions. He made big plays.

"The real test is when you start playing 65 plays and you do it on Sunday and come back and do it the next Sunday and come back and do it the next Sunday."

Up to Newton

Newton admits the onus is on him to trust his playmakers, something he hasn't always done.

"We have a lot of talent on the offensive side and guys that can take it 2 yards and turn it into 20 yards, and hopefully more than that," Newton said at the start of training camp. "It starts with me and I have to be able to trust those guys and get the ball to them."

Otherwise, Turner wants Newton to continue to be who he is, the fun-loving quarterback who likes to listen to music throughout practice and dance after touchdowns.

He's not trying to reinvent the wheel with Newton. And it's not just about improving the accuracy of Newton, whose completion percentage was 59.8 during his MVP season.

"I don't see an issue with his accuracy," Turner said. "If you're going to be a high-percentage passing game, it's on everybody. Our guys, they know that's what I believe in. I really believe we'll have a high-percentage passing game that is capable of making big plays."

Unfair to compare

Newton made headlines during training camp when former Carolina wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin criticized the quarterback's accuracy.

Benjamin noted that if he had Aaron Rodgers, Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger -- "anybody!" -- throwing passes to him during his first three-and-a-half seasons, his numbers would have been much better.

Former NFL quarterback Tim Hasselbeck has a theory about that. He says Newton wouldn't be considered among the top-10 quarterbacks in the NFL if a receiver had to select a player that is going to get him 80 to 100 catches a season.

That's not a knock on Newton. Hasselbeck, an analyst for ESPN, has tremendous respect for Newton. He says it's unfair to compare Newton to other quarterbacks in terms of completion percentage because of everything Newton is asked to do.

"They call some kind of quarterback lead draw and then he misses somebody on an in-cut the next play," Hasselbeck said. "Tom Brady is not asked to make that type of run, be tired, and then make that throw.

"And so there almost has to be an asterisk in terms of how we evaluate him as a passer. He's being asked to do things other pure passers are not asked to do."

Having said that, Hasselbeck likes pairing Newton with Turner. He can see Newton's completions rise and his hits drop based simply on Turner's system.

"That's what I felt was so remarkable during his MVP year," Hasselbeck said. "He would make great throws, and sometimes they were coming after he had a 13-yard carry where he broke two tackles. That's hard."

Hasselbeck disagreed with Benjamin questioning Newton's football knowledge.

"Cam's a smart football player," he said. "Guys that aren't smart football players don't throw as many touchdown passes as he's thrown, or they turn it over a lot more than he does.

"That doesn't mean he's at the level of [Drew] Brees or Brady."

Brees and Brady will never be at Newton's level as a runner. But having McCaffrey and Pro Bowl tight end Greg Olsen as primary targets with more speed around them will help Newton narrow the gap on those future Hall of Famers.

"When you have a running back and tight end that are as versatile as those guys are in terms of the route tree they can run -- and the matchups they can create -- you can create a lot of situations that are like two-man combination routes and let that guy win based on leverage," Hasselbeck said. "Norv will do a lot of that and that will help Cam do things he's used to doing -- like watch the guy run his route and make a decision.

"I think that will be a good fit. I really do."

LeBron, Peppers, Cam?

As Carolina cornerback Captain Munnerlyn compared the rare athletic size of defensive end Julius Peppers (6-foot-7, 295 pounds) he brought not only Newton into the equation, but NBA star LeBron James.

"Look at him," Munnerlyn said of the 6-5, 245-pound Newton. "Playing the quarterback position, how big he is, how athletic he is."

That's why Hasselbeck believes Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (6-5, 240) is a better measuring stick for Newton rather than other quarterbacks.

Though Roethlisberger never ran as much as Newton early in his career, he was inconsistent with his passing. He had a 62.8 completion percentage over his first five seasons. He threw 23 interceptions to only 18 touchdowns in his third season. But Roethlisberger has completed 65.6 percent of his attempts the past five seasons and hasn't come close to a season in which he threw more interceptions than touchdowns.

"Roethlisberger early on he would miss some things and take off and run," Hasselbeck said. "Look, he's adjusted. … Compared to earlier in his career he makes way better decisions inside the pocket based on the blitz and the look they're getting. That's what Cam needs to do more of going forward."

Dallas coach Jason Garrett said Turner will have a "positive impact" on Newton's future.

"The common thread is typically his guys play well for him," said Garrett, who played under Turner at Dallas and remains good friends with him. "All of the quarterbacks, they come in all different shapes and sizes, young guys, old guys. Typically, they've played very well. He's always had balanced attacks where he runs it well, throws it well, he attacks you a lot of different ways, so they have some dynamic players on their offense. There's no question he'll put them in a great environment to succeed."

'Pretty amazing'

Turner has coached a lot of great quarterbacks, such as Troy Aikman, Brees and Philip Rivers. He has never been around one as dynamic as Newton in terms of being a runner and passer. He believes Newton is the most dangerous player in the NFL with the ball in his hands.

So when asked to sum up the first chapter of Newton's career, that he began with "pretty amazing" was a shock.

"Numbers aren't the most important thing to me, but when you look at his numbers, it's pretty incredible the total yards passing, running, all those things he's accomplished," he said.

Newton already is Carolina's all-time leading passer with 25,074 yards for 158 touchdowns. His 54 rushing touchdowns are the most by an NFL quarterback and his 4,320 rushing yards rank third on the league's all-time list behind Michael Vick and Randall Cunningham.

"There was a reason why he was the first pick in the draft," Turner said. "You look at the team having the success they've had, him being the MVP and going to the Super Bowl, it's pretty impressive for seven years."

Turner believes the next seven years, if Newton stays healthy, can be more amazing. Rivera agreed.

"He does everything with an eye on winning," he said.

That's why Turner didn't go completely nuts when his quarterback went headfirst to the ground against New England. He agrees when Newton says his greatest "curse" is also his greatest "gift."

He just wants Newton to remain healthy enough to use that gift for a lengthy second chapter.