Weinke knows bad, hopes Newton won't

Former Panthers' QB helps future QB prepare

Staff writerJuly 3, 2011 

— A quarterback with a Heisman Trophy and a national championship has been sweating under an unforgiving Florida sun this offseason, following a regimen that could help the Panthers bounce back from last year's 2-14 disaster.

Chris Weinke says progress has been good.

There have been a number of advisers and quarterback coaches who have worked with Cam Newton leading up to and following the April 28 night when the Panthers drafted Newton No. 1 overall - from quarterback guru George Whitfield to Hall of Famer Warren Moon.

And while Moon's career numbers dwarf what Weinke accomplished in seven NFL seasons, Weinke's résumé is dotted with Charlotte and Panthers references.

Weinke, director of the IMG Madden football academy where Newton has been training since the draft, knows what Newton should expect when he steps into Bank of America Stadium after the lockout.

"He's going into a great situation. It's a great city. And I think he will be welcomed with open arms," Weinke said. "But he also needs to understand that everybody welcomes you early on. And if you don't have success, you're going to have to deal with it in a positive way. Become a leader, even though you are a rookie."

Weinke won the Heisman as a Florida State senior in 2000, a year after leading the Seminoles to the national title. Because he played six seasons of minor league baseball, Weinke was a 29-year-old rookie in 2001 after the Panthers drafted him in the fourth round.

Weinke was the starter when the Panthers opened the season with a win at Minnesota, where Weinke grew up. They didn't win again.

George Seifert was out as coach, John Fox was in, and Weinke became a regular on the inactive list as the third quarterback.

"Every rookie quarterback is going to struggle at some point. It doesn't matter where you came from," Weinke said last week at the IMG football offices, housed in several trailers near the back of the 400-plus-acre property.

From golf to gridiron

Weinke was playing golf in Texas last year when someone from IMG called to say the facility best known for training young golf and tennis protégés was starting a football academy.

Weinke, who trained at IMG after his final season at Florida State, liked the idea of going to a start-up where he could be both coach and business director. He also was excited about working with players ranging from "kids 8 and 10 years old that have no clue" to NFL veterans.

Weinke's Thursday schedule offered a glimpse of that spectrum.

After an hour-long throwing session with Newton in the morning, Weinke led the Tampa Bay Buccaneers through their last day of player-organized OTAs. He ended the day at a youth camp teeming with middle and high school players.

Weinke was more of an overseer at the Bucs' workouts, though he drew the praise of quarterback Josh Freeman.

"The guy won the Heisman," Freeman said. "He obviously knows a thing or two about football, and a thing or two about leading."

But it is Weinke's work with Newton that could have the most impact on the NFL season, assuming there is one. In the two months since he was drafted, Newton has been around Panthers coach Ron Rivera and his staff for one day - when the lockout was lifted for 24 hours in April.

But he was able to get a playbook that day, which is now in Weinke's possession.

So when Weinke and Newton hit the field for their throwing sessions, Newton calls the Panthers' plays, barks out the Panthers' cadences, and is instructed on the Panthers' line protections and route adjustments.

All that's missing is a pass rush.

"You can feel comfortable. And you can feel good in an air-conditioned room. And you can feel good when no one's rushing you and they're not blitzing you and all those different things. It's a different ballgame when the lights are on," Weinke said. "So there will be a transition period for him and every other rookie quarterback. And because of the lockout they're not getting the opportunity to get all that extra work in. So that's going to be a challenge in itself."

Newton has missed minicamps because of the lockout.

But Weinke is trying to make up for the lost time. About four weeks before the Panthers are scheduled to start training camp, Weinke estimates 90 percent of their offense has been installed.

"(Newton) was fortunate to get a playbook. So really my job, my responsibility, was strictly to teach him the playbook. Not only in the classroom, but to take that information from the classroom and apply it on the field," Weinke said. "He's done a great job. He's been unbelievable. He's got a great work ethic. He's been able to absorb this information very quickly."

Their first day together, Weinke went over 30 plays with Newton on the dry-erase board, then went outside and ran them. After a film session later in the day, Weinke put Newton at the board and quizzed him on each of the plays.

Newton was 30-for-30.

jperson@charlotteobserver.com or 704-358-5125

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