Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera made it through a 16-minute press conference Thursday at the NFL combine without fielding a single question about quarterback Cam Newton.
There were questions about running back Christian McCaffrey, wide receiver Devin Funchess and even backup quarterback Derek Anderson (more on that later).
But nothing about the player who will be working with a different offensive coordinator and a different quarterbacks coach for the first time in five years.
It’s been a relatively quiet offseason for Newton, who last winter (unbeknownst to the public) was resting and then rehabbing his shoulder in the hopes he could avoid surgery. (He didn’t).
But after stepping down from the riser at the Indiana Convention Center, Rivera shared an interesting anecdote about Newton and new offensive coordinator Norv Turner, who was hired in January in large part to try to help Newton rediscover his MVP form.
The collective bargaining agreement restricts the amount of time players can spend in team facilities during the offseason. But Newton visited Bank of America Stadium shortly after Turner and his son, quarterbacks coach Scott Turner, were hired to take over for the fired Mike Shula and Ken Dorsey.
Newton saw Rivera at the stadium, and said Newton admitted he was both excited and nervous to meet with Norv Turner.
Rivera asked why he was nervous.
“Well, coach, think about what he’s done for Troy Aikman and all those types of guys,” Newton told him.
“So,” Rivera added Thursday, “it was kind of cool to listen to the anticipation in his voice.”
Getting a new supervisor in any line of work can be stressful. What will the communication be like? Will meetings be longer? How will they feel about wearing hats, maybe even a fez, inside the building?
And most importantly, how much will they want me to change the way I do things?
Rivera said Turner, who has guided quarterbacks such as Aikman, Philip Rivers and Sam Bradford to big seasons, isn’t looking to tear Newton down just to build him back up.
“The biggest thing Cam has to understand going into this is that Norv’s not here to change him,” Rivera said. “What Norv wants to do is help him. And that’s probably one of the best things I know Cam got from that meeting with (Turner) is that he’s there to help.”
Better than 2016
Newton was better last season than he was during his abysmal 2016 season, but only marginally so. While his completion percentage improved from 52.9 to 59.1 with Christian McCaffrey in the lineup, he ranked way down the list of quarterbacks in terms of passer rating, passing yards per game and explosive passing plays.
This didn’t all fall on Newton, who saw his favorite target traded at midseason and watched a couple of speedy young wideouts go down with season-ending injuries. The Panthers also were without Pro Bowl tight end Greg Olsen for more than half of the season.
The issues weren’t all Shula’s fault, either. But it was clear Newton was trending in the wrong direction, which is how Shula ended up with the Giants and the Turners (they’re down to two following the exits for Ron and Cam Turner) came to Charlotte.
And while Rivera downplayed the extent of the changes – the Panthers have been running a close variation of Turner’s offense since Rob Chudzinski was the coordinator – he acknowledged that things will be different for Newton.
“I think it’s really just about improving himself, working on his game, working on the way he’s going to approach the games,” Rivera said. “It’s going to be different because Norv does things differently. It’ll be a challenge to him and I know it’s one he wants.”
General manager Marty Hurney believes the Norv-Cam dynamic has been a bit overplayed this offseason.
“This isn’t going to drastically change,” Hurney said. “Cam is a franchise quarterback. I mean, he’s one of the top quarterbacks in the league. I don’t think the transition is going to be as drastic as some people might think. It’s just going to be a continuation of his growth.”
More changes could be coming to the quarterbacks room.
Anderson, the only backup Newton’s had in the NFL, will be a free agent in two weeks. The Panthers like Anderson and how he has worked with Newton, but they’re open to the idea of a potential upgrade.
Rivera floated the possibility of re-signing Anderson and adding a young quarterback.
“Derek’s been a big part of what we’ve done. He’s really been kind of like having a coach in the meeting room and on the sideline,” Rivera said.
“It also may be time that we’ve got to start looking for that next guy, too. Bring D.A back, draft a young guy or sign a young guy and develop him, as well. We’ve got to start looking in that direction. But again, first and foremost we’ve got to see where D.A. is.”
Waiting for April 16
First and foremost, the Panthers need to see how Newton responds to Norv, who is expected to be a bit more demanding than Shula.
But that process won’t start in earnest for more than a month, when offseason workouts begin.
Rivera said the meeting when Newton admitted nerves was the only time he’s had to visit with Turner in person.
“Unfortunately that was really the only chance he had to just come in and say hello,” Rivera said. “I guess (on) April 16, we’ll get started.”