The evolution of Cam Newton hit a snag this week when it was announced the quarterback was to undergo late-March surgery on his throwing shoulder.
But Panthers coach Ron Rivera isn't worried about Newton's status for an all-important bounceback season in Carolina.
"Without a doubt," Rivera said of his confidence in Newton being ready for the season opener, to NFL Network's Judy Battista at the Annual League Meeting in Phoenix. "There is no concern, at least in talking with the trainers and doctors. I'm very confident that things are going to go along very well. They have a timeframe that they've mapped out for the most part. He'll be working with the trainers and he'll be working with us for the most part during the OTAs and minicamps."
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The Panthers coach also took Sunday to clear up the team's decision-making process surrounding surgery for Cam. Rivera said during the Scouting Combine that he didn't expect Newton to need surgery on his bum shoulder, but within one month that philosophy changed. What happened?
"Well, I think what happened is the doctor is looking at the MRI and their decision (was) to see if it would heal on its own," Rivera explained. "You don't really want to go in on a quarterback and do the surgery, at least that's I think what the understanding was. He had been having such a good offseason, and then it just kind of plateaued I guess.
"There was a little bit of thought that 'you know what, now's a good time if any if we're going to do it,' so that's what they decided. It's not like it's a major surgery thing that has to be done from my understanding. It should be one of those things that should really be done and it should heal up quickly."
Newton is slated to go under the knife on March 30 to repair the partially torn rotator cuff suffered in Week 14. The Panthers' head athletic trainer said Monday that the plan is for Newton to start throwing with the team 16 weeks after surgery, which should happen in mid-July. Rivera hopes the time off will ease the quarterback's adjustment to a less physical gameplan.
"I think the rest will be good for him. I think it'll help to clear his mind and refocus. I think part of it also is rebuilding that confidence," Rivera continued. "I think his confidence was shook. I think there were a lot of things that went on last year that did create that situation for him to feel that way, starting with the offensive line."
Carolina has indicated one of its main priorities going forward will be to protect Newton, who was targeted early and often during their disappointing 2016 campaign, at all costs -- literally. The Panthers' most notable move this offseason was signing former Vikings left tackle Matt Kalil to a hefty five-year deal to secure Newton's blind side; Rivera said he hopes Kalil is "gonna be there five, six, seven years in a row for you, so you don't have to worry about that position." The eventual return of Michael Oher from concussion protocol will also aid in that effort.
But if Newton is to survive and thrive in good health, Rivera and the Panthers understand the quarterback must also be responsible for how he plays. If Cam becomes more of a standard pocket presence -- a development the organization is banking on -- he will be at lesser risk of injury, and in turn, the Panthers should stand a better chance of building another Super Bowl contender.
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Two days after his general manager rationalized trading Kony Ealy and moving up eight spots in the draft as a "gold" opportunity, Rivera offered his explanation as to why Carolina shipped the defensive tackle to Foxborough.
"If Kony were continue to grow, which we think he's going to, we wouldn't be able to afford him," Rivera stated. "We thought now was as good a time to get something from him. We lost Josh Norman a year ago to free agency and got nothing out of it. So, the thought process being here's a guy who, if he ascends like he has the potential to, he has a chance to be a guy that's going to get a big payday and I think looking forward that would have been a tough situation for us."