Following the Panthers' playoff loss to the 49ers, general manager Dave Gettleman made it clear that Newton had graduated to true franchise quarterback status while transforming his game "from checkers to chess" -- as Smith put it at one point last season.
Newton began installing some elements of the offense on his own for the first time this spring, coach Ron Rivera recently told NFL Media's Albert Breer.
Appearing on Friday's edition of NFL Total Access, Breer added that Newton has also helped lead meetings and taken an active role with younger players.
The idea, Rivera told Breer, is for Newton to make the Panthers his team.
Newton acknowledged as much in April, declaring for the first time that he is now the organization's on-field leader.
Now that Newton has resumed practicing following offseason ankle surgery, he can build on last year's development from the standpoint of pre-snap recognition, going through his progressions and remaining poised in key situations.