Carolina Panthers  

 

Read-heavy offense paved way for Newton's NFL success

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Bob Leverone / Associated Press
Cam Newton has been a revelation this season with the Carolina Panthers.

This item also appears in Albert Breer's Nov. 3 Inside The NFL notebook.

Question: How in the world has Cam Newton adjusted to a complex NFL offense so quickly after playing in Auburn's one-read system?

Answer: Auburn's system wasn't so simple after all.

OK, so that's not the only reason why Newton's starred so quickly. But just listen to Panthers coach Ron Rivera, who explains how perception doesn't always mesh with reality, as part of the team's exhaustive study of the 2010 Heisman Trophy winner.

"What was interesting was that people said he couldn't make this throw or that throw," Rivera said. "We watched every throw, and he made every throw at Auburn. He threw to the flat, he threw the '7' route from the opposite hash, the fade, the post, the out from opposite hash. And the other thing we did was sit down with (Auburn coach Gene) Chizik and (offensive coordinator Gus) Malzahn.

"Gus explained to us the progressions that Cam went through. He explained that Cam was reading three things, then going through his progressions. Then we got Cam on the board, and he took us through them. ... There were so many unfair notions about him."

Most have been debunked. Newton is on pace to complete 348 of 574 passes for 4,786 yards, 22 touchdowns and 18 interceptions. The yardage number would break the NFL rookie record by over 1,000 yards, while he'd be second in completions, third in attempts and second in TD passes all-time for a first-year passer. Not bad for a guy who was seen as a raw prospect.

One factor, says Rivera, has been the player walking into a pretty good situation. The Panthers boast an elite stable of backs behind Newton, a veteran offensive line in front of him, a premier playmaker, in Steve Smith, on the perimeter, and two accomplished tight ends as safety valves.

But the bigger element has been Newton himself.

After Newton worked with Chris Weinke through the lockout, Rivera said it was evident that the rookie was coming in with a leg-up. He took every snap from center during those teaching sessions and drilled footwork -- one area where he needed work -- while learning how to play in Rob Chudzinski's offense from an experienced hand.

And he also was more ready than you might think. As Malzahn explained to Rivera, almost all of Newton's dashes in college were called runs, and out of more than 100 red-zone plays the Panthers watched, only 12 were scrambles. "It was a last resort for him," says Rivera.

So Carolina had a feeling Newton might be more ready than most expected. But this ready?

Because of all the work the Panthers did, Rivera says, "I want to say, 'No, I'm not surprised.' But it does surprise me how quick it's happened." Here's how his opinion has been altered: "Early on, we'd compare him only to Ben (Roethlisberger). But the way stands back there, he throws it like (Aaron) Rodgers, with that zip, good release, and vision. The truth is he really has his own style."

Chudzinski & Co. have put in some of the zone-read option and pistol concepts that Newton ran at Auburn. But the more they watch, the more they see a polished NFL quarterback emerging, with the Panthers going into their bye week and eight games in the books.

And the really scary thing: Next year will be the first year since high school that Newton's started for the same team in consecutive years. So the best could well be ahead.

Follow Albert Breer on Twitter @AlbertBreer.

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