Cam Newton has been the source of scrutiny since the day he declared for the 2011 NFL Draft. Whether it was about stolen laptops or saying the wrong thing during a post-game press conference, the former No. 1 pick has been a target for critics who believe he lacks the poise and professionalism to be a NFL quarterback.
That could all change entering the 2013 season as the Carolina Panthers will depend on Newton growing into a leader and making the necessary adjustments to be a great quarterback on the field. Despite being the center of controversy at different times throughout last season, Newton showed the traits of a leader after getting knocked out of the game for a few plays in Week 17 against New Orleans.
He returned to the field and seemingly earned a lot more respect from his teammates with his toughness and despite not having a good game, the Panthers were able to hold on for the 44-38 win.
What he showed in last year's finale could be the start of something new for the young signal caller. One could say he is turning over a new leaf.
However, the physical toughness is only part of the game and more needs to be expected of him in year three.
For starters, he is handing his interviews and press conferences the right way. Granted, the real test will come following a loss, but so far he has embodied the kind of professionalism that he seemed to be lacking when he became the subject of media attention. His recent press conference, when asked about being named a team captain, was handled exceptionally well. ESPN's Pat Yasinskas was impressed by the answer Newton provided upon being asked and felt it was the correct way of answering it.
When Newton was asked if he wanted to be a captain his answer was,
I recognize -- and everyone knows around the league -- when you’re a team captain that’s not just a patch on the jersey. You’re holding yourself to a higher standard with being accountable. I’m going about it each and every day and trying to make that happen.
One would have to agree with Yasinskas' assessment; every quarterback should want to be a captain. Newton may need to wait awhile with Steve Smith and Jordan Gross being the perennial captains on the offense, but in the meantime, Newton would be doing himself a favor by maturing on the field and displaying attributes that are worthy of a leader and refrain from ill-advised celebrations or off-color post game remarks.
The Carolina Panthers are in great shape with Smith and Gross bearing the captain's patch on their jerseys and Newton can learn from them while gradually establishing himself as a leader of the team.
Another part of Newton's game will come down to what he does on the field.
There is no denying the man's talent and when it comes down to what he can do on game day, he can rank up there with best of them. However, he will need to prove to everyone that he can come back in the face of adversity.
Last year, he took a big first step in which he was able to help his team win even after throwing an interception. This was huge because during his rookie season, in the games he threw an interception, the Panthers would lose. It was a small step to say the least, but an important one.
The next stage is for Newton to rally his team and be able to orchestrate fourth quarter rallies. This is an element that has been missing from Carolina since the days of Jake Delhomme, and if Newton can make the necessary adjustments and develop into a clutch player, the Panthers will win more games.
What will define Cam Newton's third season?
If Newton can mature and grow into a more complete player, harnessing the potential that could make him great, his image will change for the better. Carolina is a young team and they will need their young guys to step up and be leaders moving forward.
Newton is the key for the team's future success and if he is unable to progress the right way and become the kind of quarterback he is expected to be, the Panthers will be in trouble.
He has yet to gain the respect of many in the league or in the world of football in general. By saying and doing the right things when the spotlight is on him, the entire perception of Newton can be turned around to project something positive and refreshing.
That is what Cam Newton needs from his 2013 campaign. Only then, will he have earned a newly found perception. One that could be described as being the quality of a leader.