- Covered Panthers, NFL for 11 years
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Cam Newton will get most of the first-team practice reps this week in anticipation he’ll be ready to make his first start on Sunday at Bank of America Stadium in his second go-around with the Carolina Panthers.
The 32-year-old quarterback will be facing the Washington Football Team and former Carolina coach Ron Rivera, who made Newton the top pick of the 2011 draft out of Auburn.
“He did a great job [Sunday] having 10 plays that he was kind of ready for,” Rhule said Monday of Newton’s role in Sunday’s 34-10 road win over the Arizona Cardinals in which he backed up PJ Walker. “We’ll start getting him ready. If he’s ready to start, great.
“If he’s not quite ready to do everything, obviously PJ’s available. It’s kind of that plan right now.”
Newton produced two touchdowns, a 2-yard run and 2-yard pass, on his first two plays against Arizona. He finished with eight plays, completing three of four pass attempts for 8 yards and a touchdown and rushing three times for 14 yards and a touchdown.
This came less than four full days after the 2015 NFL MVP signed a one-year deal that could pay him up to $10 million.
“There’s a lot to learn in a short time,” said Rhule, reminding that Newton must fully grasp the two-minute package and end-of-game package, among other things.
One thing Rhule isn’t worried about is the attention Newton, who has what many have described as a large personality, gets. While he emphasizes the game is about the team, not just one player, he understands with Newton comes added attention.
“I want everything that Cam brings,” Rhule said. “I don’t want Cam light. I want full Cam as long as Cam is focused on football, which he is, so it’s easy. I want full Christian McCaffrey as long as Christian is focused on football. I want Brian Burns to do his ‘Spider-Man,’ whatever he does, as long as he’s focused on football.
“We had a team [Sunday] that was really focused on football. We have to have a team this week that is really focused on football. Cam will help us do that.”
Rhule hopes to see that energy in the entire team this week at home, where Carolina is 2-3 this season with three straight losses to the Philadelphia Eagles, Minnesota Vikings and New England Patriots.
He knows the importance of winning at home for Carolina, currently the No. 7 seed in the NFC with a 5-5 record, to make a playoff push.
Rhule also understands the importance of Newton, who helped the Panthers to a league-best 15-1 record and trip to the Super Bowl in 2015, to the Carolinas.
“I took my daughter to the daddy-daughter dance on Friday night, and I had two little girls, 5 and 7, ask if I was the coach of the Panthers,” Rhule said. “I said, ‘Yes, I am.’ They said, ‘Is Cam really back?’ I assume if that’s being brought up at the daddy-daughter dance, it’s being brought up everywhere.”
The vibe will intensify on Sunday, with Newton making his home debut and Rivera his first trip to Bank of America Stadium after being fired following the 2019 season.
That Washington is coming off a victory against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who lead the Panthers in the NFC South by a game and a half, only adds to Rhule’s urgency to have Newton and his team ready.
“We came back late last night,” said Rhule, sipping from a cup of coffee. “There was no Victory Monday. There was no day off. We’re back here working today because we have to become a consistent team.”
In terms of Newton, Rhule just doesn’t want another 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty from the quarterback as Newton got Sunday for taking off his helmet and screaming “I’m baaaack” repeatedly following his first touchdown.
“I just told him don’t do that, please,” Rhule said. “I don’t want to kick the ball off from the 20. I think he said, ‘Say less. Got it.’
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