Cam Newton needs to learn how to slide

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- It's time for Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton to learn how to slide.

If that means hiring a base-running coach from Charlotte's Triple-A baseball team or holding daily practice sessions on a slip-n-side at Bank of America Stadium, the first pick of the 2011 draft needs to put his ego aside and be smart.

Newton didn't slide in Friday night's exhibition loss at New England and he's now questionable for the Sept. 7 opener at Tampa Bay with a hairline fracture to a rib.

Had he gone to the ground feet first instead of diving at the end of a 7-yard scramble in the second quarter of a meaningless game, Patriots linebacker Jamie Collins wouldn't have stepped on his back and coach Ron Rivera wouldn't be making alternative plans for Thursday's exhibition finale.

And maybe longer.

"Very frustrating," Rivera said on Sunday when breaking the news of his quarterback's injury. "The unfortunate part is he had a chance to make a play on it. He chose to tuck it and run. One thing he's going to have to learn is either dump it or learn how to slide."

This isn't the first time Rivera has said this.

It likely won't be the last.

Newton revels in the bravado of getting everything out of a play he can. At 6-foot-5 and 245-pounds, he is physically more imposing than most of the players he takes on.

He was at least equal in stature to Collins, who is 6-3, 250.

"I'm not a sliding type of guy," Newton said last Thursday when asked if he needs to slide more, at the time addressing whether to protect his surgically repaired left ankle. "I get down the best way I know how. I really wasn't good at baseball."

He won't be good at football if he doesn't do a better job of protecting himself. The best way to do that is slide, because the defender has to lay off.

Dive, and defensive players' eyes get big and they start to drool.

It's open season on quarterbacks.

"A lot of concerns," Rivera said. "Every time he runs there are concerns. ... He's competitive by nature. Competitive people, who are truly competitive, always try to do the hard thing. Cam will never try to do the easy thing, and that's to side that way."

This wasn't Rivera on Sunday. This was Rivera after a Thursday night game against Tampa Bay last season when Newton dove awkwardly forward several times for extra yards.

"We've tried everything with him," Rivera said after that game. "He knows that if he slides the ball reverts to where he first touches the ground, but if he goes forward it's [progress] until he stops. Again, it's his competitive nature."

But Newton can't compete when he's not on the field. The hairline fracture will keep him out of Thursday night's exhibition finale against Pittsburgh in which Rivera had hoped his quarterback could fine tune the timing with his new receivers.

Because he didn't slide, Newton loses that and another week of practice with Kelvin Benjamin, Jerricho Cotchery and Jason Avant. Because he didn't slide, his throwing motion could be impacted in the opener if he plays.

Because he didn't slide, he may not be able to play.

It has left Rivera feeling the same frustration that Washington coach Jay Gruden had on Monday night after quarterback Robert Griffin III kept taking big hits against Cleveland.

This time for Newton it's a fractured rib. The next time it could be a concussion.

There's no doubt the Panthers are better offensively when Newton runs. He has more rushing yards (2,032) and rushing touchdowns (28) than any quarterback in the NFL the past three seasons.

There's also no doubt the Panthers are better when Newton is on the field.

He will be a lot less if he doesn't learn to slide.