Carolina Panthers 2012: Why Cam Newton Won't Have a Sophomore Slump
Cam Newton came into the league with as many naysayers as supporters. "He ran a simplified system at Auburn," they claimed. "He isn't accurate enough. He has attitude problems. He doesn't have the work ethic." The list goes on. Now, those people that were oh-so-wrong this past season are clinging to the idea of Cam going through a sophomore slump. Maybe it's pride, maybe it's pure disbelief, maybe—I hate to even go here, but...it has something to do with racism. I really don't know.
What I do know is this: Cam Newton lit up the NFL like no rookie ever has last season. Ever. He threw for over 4,000 yards and accounted for 35 touchdowns and 19 turnovers. He had a 60% completion rating, and he did all of this with an extremely shortened offseason. He will continue his success next season and be a top 10 quarterback on his way to a playoff berth and another Pro Bowl.
We'll look at some of the reasons he isn't a candidate for the dreaded sophomore slump.
He's Already "That Good"
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Cam Newton can throw the deep ball. He can break ankles in the open field. He can throw feathery touch passes in the red-zone area. None of this is speculation. These aren't things we hope to see from Cam in his second year; they are the things we observed him do on a regular basis in his first year in the NFL.
If we were to dissect his attributes as if this were Madden, the ones that would stick out as needing improvement would be his intermediate accuracy and his decision-making (or "awareness" for you gamers out there). He occasionally gets lazy with his mechanics and lets balls sail high across the middle, but that's an easy fix with attention and film work in the offseason.
As for his decision making, we have to remember that he was a rookie who had started a total of 15 college games coming into this past season. That's not to excuse him from some of the passes he tried to force, or big plays he tried to make, but it was never for fear of failure and that's what I liked seeing. If a rookie quarterback is going to make a mistake, let it be a confident one going 100 miles per hour. That's how a rookie learns to be great. Throughout the year, Cam got a lot better at figuring out which passes he could fit into tight windows and which ones to just check down.
If Cam is able to successfully cut down on his mistakes, the Panthers will be in a position to win the NFC South.
Continuity (Rob Chudzinski)
For the first time, presumably since high school, Cam Newton will be playing in the same system for the second season in a row. Folks, this matters. The picture up there, it's of Rob Chudzinski. That man deserves a footnote under any and all of Cam Newton's places in the record books thus far. Getting him back—Chud interviewed for several head coaching jobs this offseason—was absolutely huge for Carolina's offense, and even more so for ensuring Cam's success this season.
He tailored a previously anemic and conservative offense to Cam's strengths, and Carolina wound up leading the league with 80 plays of 20 yards or more. There's no telling what Chud and Cam will be able to do given the emergence of Brandon LaFell, the return of David Gettis, and the addition of Mike Tolbert.
With a full offseason to prepare for an offense he's already very comfortable with, Cam Newton will be more sure of his decisions on the field than ever this season. This will be key to his success.
Improved Defense and Special Teams
Watch out. He's back.
Improved defense, you ask? Yes. With Jon Beason, Thomas Davis and Ron Edwards coming back, Carolina's unit should be much improved next year. On top of that, the Panthers will be looking to add some defensive talent in this year's draft. (I go more in depth on how that might play out here.) With all of this additional talent, the Panthers will be able to give Cam Newton and the offense a little more confidence in conservatism at times.
Also, don't overlook the improved special teams unit. With several signings this offseason and the return of the aforementioned players, a ton more of the legitimate backups (not practice squad players) will be able to participate on the coverage teams. Carolina lost games this past season due to special teams deficiencies. I doubt this will be the case this year.
With a belief that the defense will be able to get stops and return the ball to the offense with some sort of reasonable field position, Cam won't feel quite so compelled to take as many risks. He can appreciate the value of field position, not needing to get the ball into the end zone for a possession to be considered successful.
Cam Newton went 6-10 last year as a starter. Andy Dalton led the Bengals to a 9-7 record. Obviously, everyone knows who the better quarterback is, but Dalton benefited from a much better defense. Dalton is a very solid player, but the Bengals' defense was seventh overall while the Panthers' was 28th. When the defense doesn't get stops, your team falls behind. When your team falls behind, defenses know you have to throw. When defenses know you have to throw, it becomes very difficult for any quarterback to find success. (This was not an ad for DirecTV...)
I strongly believe that Cam will put a greater focus on protecting the football next year, and his efforts will be backed by the play of a much-improved defensive unit. The improved defense will benefit Cam with personal success as well as team wins.
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Many of Cam Newton's critics have suggested that Cam Newton isn't focused enough on football; that he's more interested in being popular than he is in winning; that he's not mentally tough. These statements are just preposterous.
In the midst of a serious NCAA investigation, Cam kept his cool and led Auburn to an undefeated season and a National Championship.
After draft analysts said there was no way he'd be able to transition quickly to the NFL, he did just that: he threw for over 400 yards in each of his first two starts.
While he could have kept putting up huge numbers and receiving praise, the fact that his team was losing killed him inside. The Panthers franchise had become one in which losing had become regular, and Cam made it his personal duty to change that as a rookie. "Losing is accepted...I'm trying to change that..I'm just trying to get everybody on my level."
These are some strong words for a rookie, but he sure backed them up.
Cam has been able to block out negativity and succeed in spite of constant adversity since college. I really don't see anything stopping him, so long as he keeps his positive, confident attitude along with his extreme work ethic.
Panther fans should be anything but nervous in anticipation of Cam's sophomore season.