Cam Newton announced his return to the Panthers with his first touch of the 2021 season: a touchdown run.
He then used his voice to inform everyone he was indeed back. The next time the Panthers play, he might be again be back -- in the starting lineup.
Coach Matt Rhule told reporters Monday he plans on giving Newton the majority of the starting reps in practice this week with the hopes the veteran can digest enough of the team's playbook to be able to start in Week 11 against the Washington Football Team.
"We'll start getting him ready, and if he's ready to start, great," Rhule said. "If he's not quite ready to do everything, obviously P.J. (Walker) is available. ... There's a lot to learn when you take in the two-minute package and the end-of-game package and the final plays, there's a lot to learn in a short amount of time, it's hard to do. So we'll do as best we can and see where we are later in the week, but he'll get most of the reps."
Newton played nine snaps in Carolina's 34-10 win over the Kyler Murray-less Cardinals and made the most of them, completing 3 of 4 passes for eight yards and one touchdown and carrying the ball three times for 14 yards and a score. It defined what is commonly called an offensive "package" of plays for a specific player, and after signing with the Panthers just a few days earlier, Newton maximized his potential in a small amount of chances.
Should he get the full allotment of snaps in the Panthers' Week 11 meeting with Washington -- a reunion of Newton and his former coach with the Panthers, Washington head coach Ron Rivera -- the football world will get its first chance to truly witness what Newton is capable of in the 2021 season.
Newton's return to Carolina attracted plenty of attention, so much that Rhule told reporters Monday even his daughter's friends were asking him if it was true the former NFL MVP was back in Carolina. Rhule isn't shying from the injection of energy that Newton's return brings to the Panthers, who were floating in irrelevance following another dreadful performance from usual starter Sam Darnold in Week 9, which included a scapula injury that landed the former Jets signal-caller on injured reserve.
Since then, it's been all about a rejuvenation provided by Newton, which produced a win for the Panthers that has folks paying attention to Carolina and its postseason chances once again. Rhule is embracing the spotlight brought on by Newton.
"I want everything that Cam brings," Rhule said. "I don't want Cam Light. I want full Cam as long as Cam is focused on football, which he is, so it's easy."
Carolina will get this week to prepare Newton for a full game's worth of action. We'll see if he ends up being ready to face his former coach in Week 11.