Cam Newton Sophomore Slump? Don't Bet on It
After a record-shattering season at Auburn in 2010, on his way to a Heisman Trophy and a national title, Newton became one of the most highly touted players to ever enter the NFL.
Doubters said he was arrogant, immature and not a prototypical NFL quarterback. Newton heard all the reasons he wouldn't succeed yet put together one of the best rookie campaigns the league has ever seen.
Newton threw for 4,051 yards, an NFL rookie record, with 21 touchdowns, in addition to 14 rushing touchdowns (second most in the league).
While the Panthers struggled to win games in 2011, it was obvious that Newton was not the problem.
Now, the Newton-haters are pushing the "sophomore slump" rumors, but the 6'5", 245-pound quarterback will shred those just as he shredded opposing defenses last season.
Here is why Newton will defy the long-standing belief that a sophomore decline is in store for rookies who burst onto the scene.
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After setting rookie records in their first season, some players would be tempted to relax.
But not Newton.
Motivated by his mission to disprove the skeptics, reach his potential and—most importantly—win more football games, Newton has done everything in his power to prepare for the 2012 season.
This was evident by head coach Ron Rivera's comments in Pete Prisco's article on cbssports.com.
"He's a gym rat. He will come in here and work out on his own. We had to tell him not to come in here on his day off."
The NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Year set the bar high last season, and he strives to only go higher in the future.
"Sophomore slump?" Newton said in Prisco's article. "Not a chance."
Improving his physical skills, becoming more comfortable with the offense and setting expectations of what defenses will throw at him are all things that can be expected of the second-year quarterback.
The work he has put in during his first true NFL offseason will surely pay dividends in the upcoming season.
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Of the active signal-callers, Aaron Rodgers throws the best ball and Tom Brady has the most Super Bowl appearances, but no quarterback in the NFL can compare to the versatility and physicality of Newton.
Dropping back as a passer, Newton possesses one of the biggest cannons in the league. When he takes off with his feet, only Michael Vick is faster and no one is harder to bring down.
Maybe that is why opposing defenses had such a hard time containing the rookie quarterback last season.
However, some believe that Newton will be figured out by opponents in 2012. Critics suggest that Newton was exposed at the end of games last season, explaining his below-average stats in the second half of contests:
1st half: 14 TDs, 6 INTs, 62.2 completion percentage and a 95.6 QB rating
2nd half: 7 TDs, 11 INTs, 57.8 completion percentage and a 73.5 QB rating
But the word "perfection" has never been associated with rookie quarterbacks, just ask Peyton Manning (28 INT in his first year).
Defenses keyed in on Newton's tendencies later on in games but don't expect that to translate into a season-long struggle in 2012. His skill set alone presents too many possibilities to account for.
Newton can make every throw on the route tree and take off towards any sign of daylight. Confusing the young quarterback may have worked last season, but Newton will be more aware and mature with a full offseason under his belt.
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It was in April, but the Panthers selection of Newton in the 2011 NFL draft was like a Christmas present for wide receiver Steve Smith.
The veteran wideout was a blessing for the rookie quarterback, as well, leading to the development of a great connection in 2011.
Smith was coming off a disappointing season in 2010, in which he posted only 554 receiving yards and two touchdowns. But with "Superman" under center, Smith regained his explosiveness racking up nearly 1,400 yards and seven touchdowns in his best season since 2008.
This season, Smith will once again headline an offense filled with weapons for Newton to utilize. Expect Smith to produce with another Pro Bowl-caliber season, but other contributors will succeed, as well.
Tight end Greg Olsen is primed for a breakout season in 2012. Olsen caught 45 passes for 540 yards and five touchdowns last year.
Going into his sixth season, Olsen has all the physical tools to be a big-time tight end in the NFL. With Smith attracting most of the attention from opposing defenses, Olsen should be huge playmaker for Newton in the future.
Newton also has the privilege of having a running back tandem worthy of carrying the load in 2012. DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart combined for nearly 1,600 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns last season.
With Newton's running abilities added to the mix, this three-headed rushing attack will be extremely difficult for defenses to contain.
An improved Panthers defense will surely lead to a decrease in Newton's passing statistics, as they won't be trailing as often, but there are too many offensive weapons in Carolina to expect a sizable decline in 2012.
Whether he's orchestrating a fourth-quarter drive or walking down the streets of Charlotte, one thing is for sure, Newton is smiling.
Some may call it cockiness, but it's Newton's confidence that allows him to perform on the biggest stage.
He has been through the scandal at Auburn, heard the doubt coming from NFL analysts and fans, felt the disappointment of a six-win season and still sported his million-dollar smile.
Newton is facing a great deal of pressure to repeat his success last season, but his fun-loving personality won't allow him to stress over the circumstances.
Every year, players fold under the microscope that is the NFL. Newton's play will be critiqued and evaluated week after week for the rest of his career.
That may be too much for some athletes to handle, drawing a negative reaction. What will Newton's reaction be?
His smile tells it all.