CHARLOTTE -- My phone conversation with Cam Newton was short and sweet -- about as long as it took the Panthers to submit his name to be drafted. He was headed to dinner with his family and his agents, but he took a second simply to say that he was excited to get to Carolina to get things going.
Newton better be excited because this town, so used to adequate-at-best quarterbacks with little star appeal just had its team use the No. 1 overall pick on him. Expectations are already in play based on the fan reaction.
Coach Ron Rivera said Newton will get every opportunity to start right away -- just days after preaching tempered expectations. Offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski and quarterbacks coach Mike Shula are going to tailor schemes simply for Newton that will take advantage of his ability to run and use his big arm off play-action.
Carucci: Pressure on coaches
The Panthers believe they have their franchise quarterback. Now it's on new offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski and QBs coach Mike Shula to groom him, Vic Carucci writes.
They'll also scale back the playbook, in part because Newton played in such a basic system at Auburn. In part because that's what teams do with rookie quarterbacks. He's going to be granted everything he needs to succeed. The rest is up to him.
"He's not drafted to be a franchise savior," Rivera said.
He will be viewed as one, though, just like Mark Sanchez and Matt Ryan and Sam Bradford and Josh Freeman were for their teams. It comes with the territory. Newton wants to be one.
This is a once-strong franchise that went down the tubes as soon as Jake Delhomme -- the most popular quarterback in franchise history -- threw five picks in a playoff loss to Arizona two years ago. Newton already is the face of the franchise.
He better be ready to deal. He's coming to a team that averaged 12 points per game last season. He's also coming to a division in which Tampa Bay, Atlanta and New Orleans can put 12 on the board before the opening kickoff. And Atlanta wants more, as it proved by trading a wish-list of draft picks to Cleveland to acquire wide receiver Julio Jones to pair with Roddy White and tight end Tony Gonzalez.
The Panthers need an offensive infusion, and Newton is going to be counted on for that. Throw, run, whatever, he is going to be asked to give Carolina some bounce because the NFC South is all about offense these days. Even if his team doesn't ask him to do everything, those will be the unspoken expectations.
Rivera said he's going to get Newton help, but a lot of that might have to come from coaching and some incumbent player pride. The offensive line will have to get its mojo back, and running back Jonathan Stewart is going to be a stud. DeAngelo Williams is a free agent, but Carolina might try to bring him back, Rivera told me.
That's all nice, but for Newton to have a chance, Carolina has to get him some receiving help. Steve Smith is the best receiving option, although he might not want to be in Charlotte much longer. Jeremy Shockey is in at tight end. The young receivers will get a chance, but expect the Panthers to try and get a veteran wide receiver in free agency (Santonio Holmes?).
The Panthers are going to use some, if not most, of their other seven draft picks trying to get help in the secondary (a third corner) and some defensive tackles. They also will try to get into the second round, where they don't have a pick, to reach their targeted players, a team source said.
The plan is being put together, but it all revolves around Newton. If he comes in humble he'll endear himself to teammates. If he buys into the face-of-the-franchise stuff he'll get eaten alive. More than anything, he needs to look around his division and not be impressed by the points Carolina's rivals put on the board, but at the work ethic of Freeman, Ryan and Drew Brees.
Nobody works harder than those guys. If Newton wants to be as good as them, that -- more than his physical talents and charisma -- will allow him to be the franchise guy.