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Cam Newton needs to be smarter rusher, Shula says

Cam Newton became the first quarterback since Donovan McNabb in 2000 to lead his team in rushing yards last season while also pacing all NFL quarterbacks in rushing attempts.

New Carolina Panthers offensive coordinator Mike Shula doesn't want to see a repeat this season, but that doesn't mean fewer read-option looks.

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"In this run/read offense, there are decisions he makes with the option," Shula told Dan Pompei of the National Football Post. "Don't make decisions where he gets hit right away. If you are not sure if you should hand it off or keep it, then hand it off."

Newton has accounted for 28 percent of Carolina's rushing attempts and 32 percent of the team's rushing yards since entering the league. Those percentages might come down slightly, but the read-option has proven too effective to just throw in the towel as a nod to injury risks.

While the average NFL rushing play gains 4.3 yards, the average option play goes for 5.95 yards according to data compiled by Mike Tanier of SportsOnEarth.com. With the Panthers, the average option play jumps to 6.21 yards. Newton ran nearly as many option plays as Robert Griffin III's Washington Redskins and was more successful on a per-play basis.

Newton is the first player in NFL history with 30-plus passing touchdowns and 20-plus rushing touchdowns over his first two seasons. The Panthers will ask him to "think faster and play faster," but they're not going to tinker with the dual-threat formula behind one of the most productive two-year stretches the NFL has witnessed at the dawn of a quarterback's career.

Follow Chris Wesseling on Twitter @ChrisWesseling.

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