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Teammates praise Newton at close of player-run minicamp

CHARLOTTE -- So much for being an icon and entertainer.

To this point, first overall draft pick Cam Newton has behaved like a rookie eager to earn a starting job. But it's his Carolina Panthers teammates -- like Jordan Gross and John Beason -- who have delivered that message about their new quarterback.

They're not going to say much different publicly -- the same bouquets were also thrown at Titans rookie quarterback Jake Locker earlier this week -- but Carolina's players seem to be buying in because Newton is buying in.

Panthers vets took note -- again, this was them talking -- that Newton was one of the first players to arrive for Thursday's 8 a.m. player-organized practice (the final session of a two-week minicamp). It wasn't that Newton hadn't done it before, but the 2010 Heisman Trophy winner spent Wednesday with his Auburn teammates at the White House being honored by President Barack Obama for their BCS championship.

Hanging in D.C. could have been an easy out, one teammate said, but Newton came straight back to Charlotte and by 7:35 a.m. he was light-heartedly fielding punts before warming up with fellow Panthers quarterbacks Jimmy Clausen, Tony Pike and free agent Matt Moore.

Among the many questions about Newton, work ethic wasn't one of them. So his actions shouldn't be any surprise. In fact, they are expected. His teammates' praise seemed heartfelt and provided good fodder, but it should only be news if he wasn't grinding like so many teammates who were embarrassed during an NFL-worst 2-14 season.

If linebacker Thomas Davis, a rising star who has missed the better part of two seasons with major knee injuries, can be out there working as hard as his teammates, so can Newton.

Beason, a Pro Bowl linebacker, said as much.

"He'll earn it," Beason said of Newton gaining respect.

One dynamic that has arisen over the past few weeks is veteran wide receiver Steve Smith reaching out to Newton. Smith reportedly wants a change of scenery, but he very well could end up catching passes from Newton. Until things are flushed out, Smith's doing what he can to build Newton's esteem.

Smith told the Charlotte Observer earlier this week that the decision to draft Newton was "outstanding." He's also delivered some personal messages to Newton that the rookie has taken to heart.

"Steve is a person I really admire," Newton said. "I've heard lot of things about Steve and only half of them are true. One thing that everybody knows is that Steve Smith is a playmaker -- a bona fide playmaker at that. I've talked to Steve numerous times and he's always encouraging me."

Newton has had a ton of people in his ears over the past few months, offering their two cents on anything and everything. The input he's getting from guys whose livelihoods he could be directly impacting with his play is the most important now. So the advice from Smith or any teammate, as cliché or as general as it might seem, shouldn't be disregarded.

A valid question regarding Newton's transition is how well he can shift from a fairly basic spread offense at Auburn to a pro scheme that, no matter how much it's streamlined, still requires multiple pre- and post-snap reads based on the defense.

Newton has a playbook, as do other players, as new coach Ron Rivera and his staff moved quickly to dispatch them on the one day the lockout was lifted -- the day after Newton was drafted. The playbook, Newton said, had "focus points" they were instructed to master so players would at least learn concepts. Newton said he's pretty up to speed but he's already noticed the preparation is far more intense than in college.

"I have a grip on (what) we are as an offense," he said.

Newton hasn't targeted his timeline to start. But Rivera, shortly after drafting Newton, made it pretty clear that the plan is for him to start as soon as possible.

To that point, Newton needs to hope the recent talks to settle the lockout result in a new deal. While all players -- especially rookies -- could be hamstrung by the uncharted offseason in which they haven't been allowed to work with coaches, Newton will be watched closer than anyone.

Beside his status as the first overall pick, there already are doubts about his ability to process an NFL playbook and whether he likes the limelight as much as football. Any mistakes he makes could be viewed as inherent shortcomings, not the fact that he didn't get as much time to prepare to start the season as Matt Ryan, Matthew Stafford, Mark Sanchez, Sam Bradford or Joe Flacco did as rookies.

If he doesn't open the season as the starter, then the Panthers will be questioned as to why they used the first overall pick on Newton -- especially since fellow No. 1 overall picks Stafford (if he stays healthy) and Bradford look like legit franchise quarterbacks.

At a time where grace periods would be welcome, there won't be any for Newton. If there is anything that can be gleaned at this point, it's that Newton seems to realize it.

Follow Steve Wyche on Twitter @wyche89

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