Cam Newton working on footwork, mechanics to improve accuracy

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton may have a contract that puts him in elite company for his position, but his completion percentage has been anything but elite during his first four seasons.

The Panthers and Newton are working to change that.

Newton, who earlier this month signed a five-year, $103.8 million extension that made him one of the top five highest-paid quarterbacks in the NFL, spent offseason workouts focusing on his footwork and other mechanics to improve his accuracy.

Newton ranks 23rd in completion percentage (59.5) since entering the NFL as the top pick of the 2011 draft. He has the highest percentage of off-target passes (21.5) since 2011, according to ESPN Stats and Information.

To put these numbers in perspective, New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees ranks first in the NFL in completion percentage (68) and has the lowest percentage (11.8) of off-target passes during that span.

"He's got such a strong arm that on certain throws he doesn't have to really get his feet set,'' coach Ron Rivera said of Newton on Thursday as Carolina wrapped up a three-day minicamp. "We're working on getting his feet in proper position and stepping into throws.''

Newton has spent extra time working on those areas with offensive coordinator Mike Shula and quarterbacks coach Ken Dorsey. Rivera said he could see a difference during offseason workouts.

"[Wednesday] was about as good of a day as I've seen him as far as practice,'' Rivera said.

Rivera said Newton is reading defenses better and understanding more the importance of using safety valves when the primary receivers are covered.

"He wants to make the play downfield,'' Rivera said "He likes the flash plays. With his ability to stay upright, he tends to stick with a guy too long.

"He's learning that, 'Hey, if I don't have a guy right away let's give it to one of our guys and let him catch it and run.' We've got guys that can make you miss."

Newton said it's all about "footwork and trusting the protection.''

"When you do that, when you have guys running routes as precise as we were this camp, it's easy for me to do,'' he said.

That Newton has been hit 237 more times than any other quarterback since entering the league is a factor. So is experience.

"He came into this league after playing only one year of major college football,'' Rivera said. "He wasn't as advanced as your Russell Wilsons or Andrew Lucks. [This camp has] been good for him. His development is headed in the right direction.

"Part of it is learning you don't have to make a big play all the time. As he grows and learns those things he's going to be a better football player.''

The learning process won't end for Newton because the Panthers are off before reporting to training camp in Spartanburg, South Carolina, in late July. Newton plans to work with many of his receivers on his own over the next month as he did last year when recovering from offseason ankle surgery.

Asked about vacation plans, Newton said, "Just work. Just work.''