Panthers' Rivera wants QB Newton to become more assertive

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Cam Newton set an NFL record for rushing touchdowns in a season by a quarterback, became the first player in league history to throw for 4,000 yards and rush for 500 and almost single-handedly reignited sagging interest in the Carolina Panthers.

So what more could Panthers coach Ron Rivera ask of Newton?

Well, leadership for one.

Rivera said he couldn't be happier with Newton's rookie year, but wants to see him take greater ownership of the team in his second season.

"I think the one thing is his leadership, just keep developing that," Rivera said. "We always talked about how respectful he was to the veteran guys. He didn't want to step on people's toes or get in people's way."

Rivera said Newton won't have to worry about that next season.

"I told him you'll be the veteran," Rivera said.

Clearly Rivera has no complaints about Newton's play on the field following a season in which his quarterback threw for 4,051 yards and scored 35 touchdowns -- 21 passing, 14 rushing -- and is a strong contender for the AP's Offensive Rookie of the Year award despite 17 interceptions.

"It's still a learning process for me," Newton said. "I mean I learned so much the entire season. I can do so many things better. I have so much respect for this league that a lot of people don't understand what it takes to be a player in the National Football League, let alone the quarterback."

The general feeling in Carolina is if the 6-10 Panthers can get some players back from injured reserve -- they placed 18 players there in 2011, including several starters -- and add a few pieces to the defense, they have all the makings of a playoff contender.

"I honestly can't wait until (minicamp) on April 16," Rivera said. "I'm excited about this group of guys and what we can be become."

Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press

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