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Panthers QB Newton a study in focus as training continues

It wouldn't have been totally surprising to see Cam Newton in the gossip sites these last few months, celebrating his No. 1 draft pick status while killing time until the NFL lockout is resolved.

But that's not what Newton's about. You won't find him in New York, or L.A., or South Beach. Instead, the Carolina Panthers rookie is spending much of his time in quiet Bradenton, Fla., working on developing a game that will translate at the professional level.

"It was brought to my attention that if you take care of your number one goal, two, three, four, five -- they will be taken care of," Newton told *The Charlotte Observer* in Sunday's edition. "My number one goal is to be a great football player."

It's clear by the things he says that Newton follows the NFL closely. He knows which quarterbacks have had both personal and team success, and he uses those Pro Bowlers as a compass for guiding his own young career.

"I look up to the guys like Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger. They're great at what they do," Newton said. "I really love how Peyton Manning controls the whole game. He is the dictator out there on the field. He doesn't let the defense dictate him. Aaron Rodgers is a machine as far as his mechanics.

"Tom Brady is the ultimate leader. Drew Brees is a savvy guy in the pocket. Why not take a little something from everybody and apply it to your own?"

Bradenton is the home of the IMG Madden Football Academy, the place that's become Newton's home away from home. The 22-year-old has been working with Chris Weinke, the program's director and a former Panthers QB and Heisman Trophy winner himself.

"We're fine-tuning his mechanics, whether it's foot placement or level shoulders or whatever it is. There's little things that we tweak with him," said Weinke, who knows what it's like to face high expectations right out of college. "The biggest thing with him was he was not used to being under center in college. So the footwork is new to him. He's been able to grasp that. He's doing a great job now."

Working with Weinke at IMG has been an ideal situation for Newton.

"You're down here and it's like 485 acres of just straight work, basically," Newton told the Observer. "You've got three football fields you can pick from. You've got every opportunity to be successful. ... You don't have any media out here to critique everything you do: 'Look, Cam's going to get lunch. Look, he ate a Honey Bun today.'"

Newton's low-key experience at IMG is a far cry from his final season at Auburn, where he led his team to a national championship while under investigation for NCAA rules violations. The constant scrutiny wore on Newton, who found a safe haven on the football field.

"I'd wake up in the morning, cut on the TV, 'Well, Cam Newton is this.' Go on campus and read the newspaper and 'Cam Newton is that.' Put my iPod on and you're looking at people and they're looking back at you," Newton said. "But I knew none of that was going to go down in that little hour or two hours that I had on that football field. It was like I was at recess. I was like a little kid. ... My escape was football. I knew everything (else) had to wait."

Newton thinks his tumultuous college career made him stronger.

"It's the definition of a person how he reacts or how she reacts when that (difficult) time comes. The funny thing about life is you don't know when that's going to come," he said. "It takes you looking back at it like, 'Dang, we came through that.' And if we can go through something as serious as that was, we can go through anything."

Now an NFL player, Newton has new challenges. Namely, improving a Carolina Panthers team that finished 2-14 a season ago.

"I love challenges in my life. And one of the main challenges I have right now is how am I going to affect this team to go from worst to first?" Newton said. "In my career, I've never been satisfied with losing. That's never been in my vocabulary."

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