Mixed reviews on Cam Newton's debut

SPARTANBURG, S.C. -- There were some spot-on frozen ropes and a few balls that sailed beyond receivers or tailed behind them. There was a botched handoff in which the ball ended up on the ground and there was the moment of brilliance we saw so much of in college when the quarterback tucked the ball and ran for roughly a 20-yard gain.

We're talking about rookie Cam Newton’s first padded practice as a member of the Carolina Panthers. It was a mixed bag, filled with flashes of potential and the usual rookie mistakes. Nobody’s ready to declare Newton the starter over Jimmy Clausen. In fact, the Panthers added another competitor when free-agent Derek Anderson walked out to the practice field to watch after passing his physical and signing his contract.

“It’s so early that it’s hard to get a true assessment of where we’re at,’’ offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski said. “We’ve only been out here a few days.’’

It’s likely the Panthers will go through virtually all of training camp and their preseason games before settling on a starter. But the early verdict is that Newton is doing pretty much what you’d expect.

He’s impressing at times and showing he’s a rookie at others. Clausen was doing pretty much the same, but his good moments weren’t quite as spectacular as Newton’s.

The highlight of the night came about midway through practice and looked like it came straight out of an Auburn game. Lined up in the shotgun formation, Newton took the snap and saw a blitzing linebacker breaking through the offensive line. Instead of forcing a pass or taking a sack, Newton tucked the ball and ran.

He went for 20 yards before being met by a defensive back. Although the Panthers were in pads, they weren’t tackling, so we’ll assume the defensive back would have brought Newton down. But he was known to break downfield tackles in college, so anything is possible.

Tucking the ball and running isn’t going to be something the Panthers discourage.

“That’s a special talent that he has,’’ Chudzinski said. “He brings that to the table and hopefully he’ll be able to do that a lot and certainly the important thing is he’s doing it in the right situations and making good decisions.’’