In the Amazon Prime documentary series on last season’s Carolina Panthers, cameras follow Cam Newton as he gives out food to the Charlotte homeless on Thanksgiving.
While most of the people gathered around him were excited to meet the Panthers quarterback and receive the holiday meal, one man wanted to talk about the previous week’s loss to Detroit.
Newton overthrew an open receiver in the end zone on the final play — a two-point conversion attempt that would have won the game for Carolina.
“You could’ve run on that last play,” the man argues.
“Yeah,” Newton sighs as he walks up the street with his bags of food, “I could’ve did a lot of things, man.”
The scene could have been a macrocosm of the Panthers season, which ended in a mixture of missed opportunities and resignation. Carolina battled through a seven-game losing streak while Newton struggled through a shoulder injury that rendered him incapable of throwing the deep ball.
As training camp opens for the Panthers, we may see a new version of Cam Newton. He had postseason surgery to repair the shoulder immediately after the season. He also turned 30 years old in May.
While he still admits the shoulder is “a work in progress,” he’s ready to go deep again. He’s also ready to play things a little closer to the vest than in his younger days.
In an interview with NBC Sports’ Peter King, Newton said he “doesn’t think he has to be Cam Superman anymore.”
“Your game has to change,” Newton told King. “It’s not that I’m limited with certain things, or that I’m not capable of doing certain things. It’s just other ways to do it.
As Newton told his Thanksgiving morning critic, there are a lot of things he could do. He just may choose the safer options. That could be no more lead blocking on run plays, no more wild scampers upfield.
Or, it could mean more of the same. Offensive coordinator Norv Turner, for one, isn’t convinced.
“Are you believing that?” he asked, addressing the “Cam Superman” comment. “Wait until the first game. … It’s great that he says it, but wait until it’s third and goal and he takes off and dives over about five guys.”
The idea isn’t to have Newton play it safe. Turner and the rest of the coaching staff knows he’ll still take risks while in the heat of competition. Hopefully, though, he’ll let some of the other talented skill position players take on the dirty work on occasion.
“Obviously, part of his game is the physical nature of his game,” Turner said. “Running the ball, making plays, zone-read stuff, RPOs. We’re not going to take that away from him. … We’ll pick our spots. … We know the way he can play. We hope he doesn’t get put in that situation often. We’ll use all our guys.”
It’s similar to the approach the team has taken with Christian McCaffrey. The running back is only in his third year in the league, so age isn’t an issue. Size is, however, as there are concerns the 5-foot-11, 205-pounder will wear down if he gets hit too often.
Turner feels that the way the team is using McCaffrey minimizes that risk.
“We’re concerned about Christian’s touches,” Turner admitted. “He had something like 320 touches (last year). Carries take more out of you than completions, and he had about 210 carries. I’ve had six different guys that had 400 touches. He isn’t even close to some of the guys I’ve been with.”
Still, there’s more they can do.
“He’s been on the field 90 percent of the time,” Turner said. “That’s documented. Now, a lot of the times, he’s running swings, getting out of the way (of contact). But we need to get someone else on the field. We’re not going to minimize his touches.”
In other words, they’ll cut back on the risk during times when McCaffrey isn’t doing what he does best, without reducing the times he has the ball in his hands. A similar plan should help keep Newton on the field and effective.
In the first training camp practice, Newton got the chance to show off his repaired shoulder, launching a deep ball that drew a reaction from observers — players, media and fans.
“Everything we’ve been told and everything we saw pointed to him being ready to go,” coach Ron Rivera said. “It did a lot not just for us but for him — uncorking one like he did and just letting it go.”
It’s enough to give hope that perhaps the homeless people will be a little happier to see him this Thanksgiving.