"With all the referees in the NFL, and all that, they need to protect him like they do the rest of the quarterbacks," Auburns' Gus Malzahn said Thursday at SEC Media Days.
It was a reference to some of the hits Newton incurred last season that did not draw a penalty flag. A game against the Denver Broncos last September was a focal point of the controversy. After the game, Panthers coach Ron Rivera said Newton was getting treated like former NBA star center Shaquille O'Neal in that he was not drawing penalties that other quarterbacks would because of his size (6-foot-5, 245 pounds). A league source later told NFL.com's Judy Battista that there should have been at least one more penalty called for a hit on Newton in the game.
Newton, the 2015 NFL MVP, spoke to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell in November about the late hits, and came away from the meeting "on good terms."
Malzahn was asked about Newton's presence in the Auburn program before veering into the issue of late hits at the end of his answer.
"He's got a great heart for youth and the things he does off the field (for kids). Cam will come back from time to time," Malzahn said. "I think he was at two of our games last year. When he has off time, he likes to come back to Auburn. It feels like home to him, and I'm very proud of him."
Proud, and watchful.