Quarterback Cam Newton, the Pathers first-overall pick in April, got his first NFL start in Carolina's Week 2 preseason game against Miami. He played the entire first half and completed 7 of 14 passes for 66 yards.
And while Newton is going through many of the growing pains rookie quarterbacks experience as they transition from college to the NFL (the speed of play, better competition, more complex defenses, etc.), there was still reason to believe that he could earn the starting job in the regular season. Partly because the Panthers were just 2-14 a season ago, but also because the organization feels that Newton is the future, even though they drafted Jimmy Clausen in the second round of the 2010 draft.
Well, various reports Sunday indicate that that the future is now in Carolina.
CBSSports.com Rapid Reporter Steve Reed writes that "Newton will be Carolina's regular-season starter providing he doesn't suffer a complete meltdown Thursday night against the Bengals. 'It will give us an opportunity to see how he'll handle the whole game experience, and we'll go from there,' Panthers head coach Ron Rivera said."
NFL Network analyst and former Raiders front office man Michael Lombardi tweets that "Newton will start and play 3 quarters [in Thursday's preseason game], leaving little doubt he will be the opening day starter for the Panthers."
Finally, the Charlotte Observer's Scott Fowler weighs in on his blog:
Coach Ron Rivera edged in that direction Sunday afternoon without going all the way, saying Newton will start and play the first three quarters in the Panthers' third exhibition -- Thursday night at Cincinnati. Jimmy Clausen will likely play all or most of the fourth quarter.Fowler points out that in roughly four quarters of preseason football over two games, Newton has yet to lead the Panthers on a touchdown drive or convert a single third down.
In other words, if Newton doesn't mess things up too badly, he's the starter from here on out. But Rivera isn't saying that yet -- he's hedging a little, which is probably smart given that he doesn't have to make this decision yet. The Panthers will use this week as a dress rehearsal for a real game -- actually game-planning for Cincinnati, which they haven't done in the first two preseason games.
But at this stage of the proceedings that's not really the point. Newton looks like an NFL QB. And we don't mean that he's 6-5, 240 pounds, and has a howitzer for a right arm. We're talking about the way he carries himself while on the field, in the huddle, under center and staring down a pass rush; Newton seldom appears overwhelmed. Relatively speaking, he seems pretty comfortable, and that will only improve over time.
Fair or not, we never got that feeling with Clausen last season. Perhaps he was thrust into an untenable situation. Or maybe he was overdrafted. Whatever the case, the franchise's future rests with Newton, and it sounds like Rivera isn't going to waiting around to install him as the starter.
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