There is a level of comfort associated with coaching some of the best quarterbacks in football. Year after year, they become more mechanical. Like industrial business servers, they self-diagnose, clean and perform the routine maintenance necessary during quiet hours. No one is alerted of any kinks or problems. Everything is fine once the rest of the workers come in.
Ken Dorsey, the Carolina Panthers' quarterbacks coach, likes comfort. He was pleased to see Cam Newton walking into the Panthers' facility with a mile-wide smile and a joke on the day the team reconvened for football activity back in late May after a demoralizing loss in Super Bowl 50. He was happy when Newton immediately redirected his energy to the field and began whipping passes around with the same zest that won him an MVP award last season.
But Dorsey breaks from the mold in this way: He is attracted to the unknown.
Unlike so many of the great quarterbacks, Newton, 27, has the chance to evolve again and again. His prime years could bring talent and production previously unseen at the NFL level. He is mobile and accurate. He is powerful and deft. And, according to Dorsey -- a former national championship quarterback at Miami who went on to play for the 49ers and Browns in a six-year NFL career -- Newton needs to improve across the board.
"As a quarterback, you have to focus on everything," Dorsey told NFL.com just as the Panthers broke for vacation. "If Cam only focused on his footwork, there's decision making that gets neglected, or release-point stuff or little things. There are things that come up that we'll stress upon, but at the same time, we're focusing on everything, we're coaching everything.
"I think all these guys -- you learn so much through experience and you get better through experience and running your offense. I think you're always learning something new because the game is constantly changing."
On Wednesday, Newton was named the No. 1 player in football. NFL Network's "Top 100 Players of 2016," as voted on by the players themselves, placed him above Tom Brady, J.J. Watt, Antonio Brown, Adrian Peterson and Aaron Rodgers -- all names that have routinely hovered around the top of the list. Newton jumped 72 spots from last year's list, coinciding with a near-perfect regular season in 2015 and career highs in passer rating (99.2) and touchdown passes (35). During a seven-game stretch to end the regular season, Newton threw 20 touchdown passes against just one interception, piling up 1,800 passing yards at a 64 percent completion rate. According to Pro Football Reference's "Approximate Value" measurement for this past season, no offensive player in the NFL was more crucial to his team than Newton.
And yet, there isn't an overwhelming sense that this is Newton's plateau.
After Rodgers' masterful 2011 season, we expected his numbers to hover in that stratosphere for the next five or six years. The same could be said about Peyton Manning's 2003 season, which defined his high-accuracy, high-production stat line for the next decade, save for two incredible outlier seasons.
Newton just enjoyed the greatest -- and, as colleague Chris Wesseling pointed out, most unique -- season for a dual-threat quarterback in NFL history. He has an offense built around his short-yardage prowess, which opens up the deep passing game and challenges defensive coordinators with the most basic and impossible question: How many people are you going to devote to stopping this guy? (And at what cost?)
Dorsey and offensive coordinator Mike Shula are critical to Newton's success. Not only are they creating the parameters for the NFL's greatest player to thrive, but they are providing the necessary emotional support, as well.
Teams like to throw around the word family, and most coaches see their players more than they do their spouses and children. But, as Around The NFL reported after Super Bowl 50, Dorsey and Shula went out of their way to care for Newton in the nadir of his professional career, climbing up onto another podium to get within Newton's field of vision during a disastrous, brief and controversial postgame press conference. They wanted him to know that they were there.
"I think what it comes down to, whether the game is good, bad or indifferent, is that I want to be there for my guys, and I think Coach Shula feels the same way," Dorsey said. "They give me, all three of my [quarterbacks], everything they've got, and I just feel like the least I can do as a coach and person is to be there for them whether things are going well or not going well. At no time will they have to look over their shoulder and wonder if I'm someone who has their back or will support them. That's unconditional."
We should be excited. Sometimes mechanical and efficient can have boundaries. There is a comfort in the expected. But there is also a danger.
The Panthers are creating the scenario where Newton -- who hinted at this himself last offseason, saying that no one has been who he is trying to become -- tops this list for years to come and redefines the position. How refreshing.