Making his 2014 preseason debut last week, Cam Newton appeared hesitant to cut loose on his surgically repaired ankle in the Carolina Panthers' 28-16 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs.
We wondered on Monday's edition of the Around The League Podcast if Newton can still be a competitive advantage at quarterback if his scrambling ability is compromised early in the season.
"In an interesting way, this might have been the best thing to happen to him in terms of his pure quarterbacking development," Rivera said Thursday, via ESPN.com. "He's had to stay in the pocket. He's had to have good footwork. He's had to step into his throws."
Rivera compared Newton's forced reliance on passing and pre-snap adjustments to former NBA star Michael Jordan's mid-career transition from first-step quickness and freakish athleticism to jumpshots and low-post dominance against smaller guards.
"Michael Jordan used to go to the hole all the time and dunk, make spectacular layups and stuff like that," Rivera said. "But if you ask Michael, he learned that later in his career he had to develop that jumper. So he went to work at it."
It's an interesting observation even if it's best relegated to summer coachspeak.
There's no question that Newton must improve his mechanics if he's going to rely less upon his legs to get him out of trouble. Although he was already showing progress on the mental side of the game last season, his come-and-go accuracy is one of the reasons the Panthers traded in 5-foot-9 Steve Smith for 6-foot-5 Kelvin Benjamin.
Even if last week's game film offered reason for skepticism, Rivera now believes Newton's ankle is "really close" to 100 percent.
If he can remain one of the NFL's most effective running threats while consolidating his gains as a passer, the Panthers will have a good shot at a return trip to the playoffs.