Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, the No. 1 overall selection from last year's draft, said Saturday he feels his improvement going into his second season as an NFL quarterback "is through the roof."
The NFL's Rookie of the Year says that with an offseason to review game film and work on areas in which he needs improvement, he's grown.
"I've had the whole offseason to work on the things that I feel like I need to get better at (and that) will come into fruition. With the upcoming OTAs, I feel like that's another time for me to get better."
He also says it will help to have wide receiver Steve Smith around. The Panthers receiver recently signed a three-year contract extension.
"Having him back is a big thing for not only me, as my whole evolution is going to change -- to have his leadership there -- but for the whole team," Newton said. "We need Smitty not for what he does at the receiver position but for the leader that he is, how much he holds everybody accountable."
In his first season in the league, Newton threw for 4,051 yards and 21 touchdowns, completing 60 percent of his passes. He spent one season at Auburn and led the team to the 2010 national title.
Newton was in Auburn Saturday for a ceremony to unveil statues of the Tigers' three Heisman Trophy winners: Newton (2010), Bo Jackson (1985) and Pat Sullivan (1971). The 1,900-pound bronze statue of Newton features him running with the ball tucked into his right arm, a sign of his versatility as a quarterback. Newton said he still has "a warmth in my heart" for Auburn despite his relatively short stay.
"Every Saturday I was in that team hotel glued to the tube, trying to find out what in the world we were doing so I could have bragging rights," he said of this past fall.
He and Jackson, a former NFL and Major League Baseball player, playfully dodged any debate about who is Auburn's best athlete.
"To be honest with you, the best athlete to ever come out of Auburn University is Charles Barkley," Jackson said.
"Uncross your fingers," Newton told him.
Newton closed his remarks to the crowd with a poem about his championship season.
The university also erected a bust of John Heisman. Auburn was the only school coached by Heisman that has produced a winner of the award that bears his name.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.