Sorensen: Rivera should end QB intrigue, go with Newton

Staff WriterAugust 17, 2011 

Maybe Carolina coach Ron Rivera likes intrigue.

Hey, coach, who're you going to start in the regular-season opener against Arizona?

I'm not telling, Rivera will say with a smile, or a pat on the back for the reporter asking the question, or, on Monday, with both.

Rivera said Monday he plans to announce a regular-season starter before next week's exhibition at Cincinnati. He can drag out the mystery if he chooses. Long practices probably bore coaches, too.

But there is no mystery.

Although the announcement has yet to come, Cam Newton will start at quarterback against the Cardinals.

You could see it if you attended Carolina's exhibition opener Saturday or Fan Fest the week before. You could see it if you watched practices at training Cam(p).

Second-year quarterback Jimmy Clausen is not ready. I thought he would be. But I was wrong. Although Clausen has guts, he's still working to overcome the trauma of his rookie season.

It's not about Panthers fans booing him. Any coach who allows fans to dictate personnel decisions is too weak to be a coach, and Rivera is anything but weak.

It's about giving Clausen time to recover. Last season he was hit by opponents, ridiculed by fans and publicly undermined by star teammate Steve Smith. The Panthers lost nine of the 10 games he started. Welcome to the NFL.

Who can shrug that off?

Jake Delhomme, the most effective quarterback in Panthers history, came permanently undone after back-to-back disasters, performing miserably in a 2008 playoff loss to Arizona and again in a 2009 opening-day loss to Philadelphia.

But his career was about to end. Clausen is 23, and his is beginning. Time, however, will be required before he is able to dodge pass rushers and flashbacks.

Sustaining the Jimmy-or-Cam facade accomplishes nothing. Carolina's final Spartanburg practice is today, and Rivera will meet the media afterward. What an opportunity. Camp ends. The Newton Era begins.

Rivera can prove it by starting the rookie Friday against Miami, next week against Cincinnati and in the final exhibition against Pittsburgh. He can announce that when the Panthers take their first snap Sept. 11 in Glendale, Ariz., Newton will be behind center, most likely by several feet.

Align Newton with the first-team line, first-team backs and first-team receivers. Let him work against the first-team defense of the Dolphins, Bengals and, briefly, Steelers. Let him operate in practice against Carolina's first-team defense, against Thomas Davis and Charles Johnson and the fellows. Newton lost invaluable time during the lockout, and there's no way to catch him up. But every rep he takes with his peers ought to move him in the right direction.

I wrote a month before April's draft that the Panthers were going to take Newton. He was their guy, and nothing he has done or said has altered their confidence or shaken their opinion.

Because Rivera will make his debut as an NFL head coach the same day Newton will make his debut as an NFL quarterback, they will forever be linked. If they are the talents the organization expects them to be, the Panthers could be on the verge of unprecedented success, someday perhaps even back-to-back winning seasons.

Why wait?

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