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Rivera: Cam Newton will evolve away from zone-read O

Coach Ron Rivera emphasized last week that Cam Newton will have to change his playing style as the Carolina Panthers offense "evolves" next season and beyond.

"We want him to last 10 more years," Rivera explained. "We have to find ways to change. We have to find ways to protect him and for him to protect himself. Part of his evolution is learning how to survive."

Rivera expanded on that notion in Monday's season-ending news conference, suggesting the team will move away from the zone-read concepts that have been a staple in Mike Shula's offense for the past few years.

"You can't sit there and expect us to run 20 zone reads and expect him to carry the ball 10 out of those 20 times," Rivera told reporters. "That's the truth of the matter."

While the Panthers' plan to reduce the number of designed runs for Newton, they are exploring new avenues to exploit his "unique skill set."

"He still has the ability to get outside the pocket. He still has the ability to use play action, waggle action, whatever kind of action you want to call it -- because he's athletic and he's strong-armed," Rivera continued. "That's what I'm talking about. There are other ways to utilize it. But we most certainly embrace his unique abilities and talents. We just have to be able to maximize it now in a different fashion, a different way."

Amid rampant speculation that Shula could take the fall for Newton's disappointing season, Rivera gave his embattled play-caller a vote of confidence.

Asked point-blank if Shula is still the right coordinator for job, Rivera replied with a succinct "Yes."

Newton has accounted for 28.4 percent of the team's rushing output since landing in Carolina six years ago. Rivera and Shula will continue to take advantage of his uncanny short-yardage prowess in key situations, but will stress running the ball "more effectively from the one-back and two-back sets" rather than relying on their quarterback's legs to sustain the ground attack.

Just as the Steelers requested of Ben Roethlisberger four years ago, the Panthers will ask Newton to become a more disciplined pocket passer, deciphering defenses before the snap and getting the ball out of his hands more quickly after the snap. Once the most battered quarterbacks in the league, Roethlisberger remains a highly effective downfield passer while absorbing fewer sacks than any starter save Derek Carr.

If Rivera's vision comes to fruition, Newton's career will evolve away from his 2015 dual-threat MVP form and toward Roethlisberger's dynamic, quick-trigger aerial attack.

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