CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) - Cam Newton will have plenty to do when the NFC South champion Panthers report to training camp.
In between spending time in the training room rehabbing from offseason ankle surgery, Newton hopes to develop some on-field chemistry with a completely revamped group of wide receivers.
Toss in the fact coach Ron Rivera is counting on Newton to take on a bigger leadership role following the departures of longtime offensive captains Steve Smith and Jordan Gross and you have the makings of an important, pressure-packed summer for the fourth-year quarterback.
“I’m excited to take this challenge to be this team’s leader,” said Newton “More has been given to me on my plate, and be a leader of men.”
Newton has never missed a start in three seasons. He’s expected to be ready to go when camp opens Friday after sitting out all but one practice during OTAs and minicamp.
None of the wide receivers on the roster caught a pass from Newton last season.
After releasing Steve Smith and allowing Brandon LaFell, Ted Ginn Jr. and Domenik Hixon to leave in free agency, the Panthers restocked by drafting Florida State’s Kelvin Benjamin in the first round and adding free agents Jerricho Cotchery, Jason Avant and Tiquan Underwood. Marvin McNutt and Tavarres King are the only two returning wide receivers, but neither has caught an NFL pass.
Tight end Greg Olsen, one of Newton’s favorite targets the past three seasons, will return, providing at least some stability in the passing game.
Still, Newton said he will spend quite a bit of time learning the tendencies of his new wide receivers: how they come out of their breaks; where they like the ball thrown; what routes they feel most comfortable running in games.
Newton doesn’t seem overly concerned.
“We’ll have plenty of time to develop that chemistry” in training camp, he said.
Rivera, whose defense has 2013 Defensive Player of the Year Luke Kuechly at linebacker, isn’t worried about the offense, either. He was quick to point out Newton didn’t get any OTA or minicamp work his first year due to the NFL lockout in 2011, but still managed to put up big numbers and was the AP Offensive Rookie of the Year.
Newton and Rivera seem more focused on the big picture: getting the Panthers to the playoffs in back-to-back seasons for the first time, and winning a postseason game for the first time since 2005.
“Status quo isn’t good enough,” Rivera said.
Here are some things to watch from the Panthers at training camp: