QB Newton faces different challenge in Year 2
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Just when you think you have him pinned down, bam!
There Cam Newton goes racing for a first down.
Or throwing a touchdown pass.
Or doing something else spectacularly.
Of all the talented players in the NFL, the toughest for defensive coordinators to figure out might be the Panthers quarterback.
That's because Newton can hurt you in so many ways.
Newton threw for an NFL rookie record 4,051 yards in 2011. And when he wasn't burning folks with his strong arm, he was making them look foolish with his feet, rushing for 706 yards and 14 touchdowns -- the most ever by a quarterback.
His 35 combined touchdowns were more than what half the teams in the league scored last season. If Newton wasn't on opponents' radar coming in as a rookie, he certainly is now after the Panthers went from 32nd in league scoring in 2010 to fifth.
So what does the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Year expect teams will try now?
"I was hoping you were going to tell me," he said coyly.
Newton told The Associated Press he's not spoken to any other quarterbacks around the league about what to expect this season. Nor does he feel the need to. He's not going to change his approach when the Panthers open the season Sunday at Tampa Bay.
"I'm going in with the same mindset as last year: very, very hungry," Newton said. "There's only one goal for every week when we play and that's to win. ."
Some NFL quarterbacks have struggled in Year 2 after successful rookie seasons. Others have avoided that so-called sophomore slump.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera and others around the league see a multitude of challenges ahead for his young QB.
A year ago, folks didn't know to expect from Newton -- or from the Panthers new coaching staff, for that matter. Offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski spent part of last offseason researching what Newton did well at Auburn and borrowed pages from the Tigers' playbook, particularly how they employed the zone read option.
Newton felt comfortable running it, and it translated to success in the NFL. He ran for 51 first downs in 2011, fifth most in the league and by far the most among quarterbacks.
But Rivera said teams will be better prepared this year.
"Probably the first three or four teams we play have already started looking at the zone read concept," Rivera said. "They've probably looked at some of what the college teams are doing to stop it and trying to get a better understanding of it. They'll look at it and say `This is how they handle it."'
Of course, knowing how to handle it and actually stopping it are two different things.
At 6-feet-5 and 245 pounds, Newton is one of the biggest and strongest quarterbacks you'll ever come across, not easy to bring down even when you know he's coming your way. Combine that with outstanding speed and quickness and you have a dynamic player at the most important position on the field.
Tampa Bay coach Greg Schiano called Newton one of the elite athletes in the league.
"Someone asked me the other day, 'How do you shut him down?' I don't think you can," Schiano said.