Cam Newton Set Up for a Tremendous Sophomore Season
Lost in the hype of Tim Tebow, Peyton Manning, Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III, Newton has gone about his business this offseason, adding elements to his game that should scare the daylights out of his NFC South opponents.
After such a great first year, some are suggesting that Newton might be due for a sophomore slump, but that thought couldn't be further from the truth.
In 2011, Newton had every excuse to look less than stellar. Coming from a niche college offense in a lockout-shortened offseason, no one outside of Charlotte really expected Newton to make a huge impact right away.
Yet, a huge impact is exactly what he made.
Among the many rookie records he set, Newton now holds the single-game and single-season rookie passing marks. He is the only rookie quarterback to throw for 4,000 yards in a season. He is the only rookie to throw for 10 touchdowns and run for 10 touchdowns in a season. He is the first player in NFL history to throw for 4,000 yards and run for 500.
Newton accomplished all of that on a team that had gone 2-14 the year before and was dealing with a completely new head coach, offensive coordinator and scheme. The Panthers were admittedly in year one of a rebuilding process, and anything they received from their new passer would have been a bonus.
Instead, they got a Pro Bowler.
Now, in 2012, Newton will have every opportunity to build on his success.
A Full Offseason to Work On Becoming an NFL Passer
Much of Newton's success last year was predicated around him being an incredible athlete. As fantastic as he was, it was evident that he still had a lot of work to do as a drop-back-and-throw passer. In the NFL, that work needs to happen eventually if Newton wants to have a long career.
The playbook will be much larger for Newton in year two as he absorbs Rob Chudzinski's offensive scheme. "Chud" has coached under Norv Turner and Marty Schottenheimer, so you know he'll be looking to put up serious points on the scoreboard. With a passer like Newton, that goal is certainly possible.
Of course, any added pages to the Panthers' offensive playbook will need to be on top of all the gadget plays Carolina runs because of Newton's dynamic running ability. Although it's the preseason, America saw some of that on Sunday night as Newton pitched to a receiver on a reverse that started as a play-fake off of the option.
Defenses already have so much to think about when Newton is on the field; think about how that will be compounded once he matures as a passer.
Will Cam Newton Make the Pro Bowl in 2012-2013?
The natural talent is there.
Newton has one of the strongest arms in the league—able to both launch the ball 50 yards and drive the ball to the outside shoulder on a deep out route. He also showed plenty of touch both last season and in college on shorter passes.
The coaching staff—including Chudzinski and QB coach Mike Shula—are just now getting their first real work with Newton. Last season, they needed to focus more on patching together a winning game plan and less on developing their phenom. Without a full offseason to install the offense, each week was spent behind the eight ball.
This season will be a whole new ballgame.
More Talent Around Him and Better Chemistry
Last season, Newton's deep shots to Steve Smith were about as automatic as any play in the NFL. This season, Newton will be charged with finding other go-to plays and developing chemistry with other receivers.
Brandon LaFell has become the clear-cut starter across from Smith and has put together a solid offseason. When visiting Panthers training camp, NFL.com columnist Daniel Jeremiah noted that LaFell and Newton have been developing that much-needed chemistry.
Jeremiah also wrote that: "The young receiver [LaFell] was more fluid as a route-runner than he's been in the past and he was attacking the ball in the air."
With LaFell drawing coverage away from Smith on the opposite side, the middle of the field should be wide open—that's where new No. 3 Louis Murphy comes in. While Murphy fell out of favor in Oakland, his 4.3 speed can bring a new dynamic to the Panthers' offense. Murphy started the game on Sunday night with Smith battling a foot infection.
Mike Tolbert was brought over from San Diego and will almost certainly aid Newton in both the run and the pass game. While he plays a different position, Tolbert is expected to play a similar role as Jeremy Shockey. With Tolbert in the fold, the Panthers have also experimented with some multiple back sets.
Perhaps the most crucial way the Panthers have helped Newton (if not the most obvious)—they have also improved their defense in 2012.
While that won't directly help Newton put up bigger numbers, it will make the Panthers a better team as a whole. With the defense keeping up its end of the bargain, Newton will not be down late in as many games and thus won't have to pass as much this season. The constant threat of him as a runner will be that much more dangerous.
"Dangerous" is a great word to use for Newton this year. With a full offseason, more help around him and a chance to develop chemistry, he has a chance to take yet another step forward as an NFL passer.
Michael Schottey is the NFL National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report and an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Find more of his stuff alongside other great writers at "The Go Route."
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