Steve Smith to Cam Newton: Stop sulking

jperson@charlotteobserver.comSeptember 22, 2012 

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Carolina Panthers (1) quarterback Cam Newton sits on the team's bench frustrated late in fourth quarter action vs the New York Giants on Thursday, September 20, 2012 at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, NC. Jeff Siner - jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

JEFF SINER — jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

— If the beating he took from the Giants was not enough Thursday night, Panthers quarterback Cam Newton heard it from one of his teammates, as well.

Steve Smith, the 12th-year wideout and the team’s emotional leader, said he “lit into” Newton in the final minutes of the Panthers’ 36-7 loss to the Giants on Thursday. After Newton was pulled from the game following his third interception with 6:25 remaining, Smith told last season’s Rookie of the Year to get off the bench and stop sulking.

Backup quarterback Derek Anderson began warming up on the sideline and entered the game with about a minute left for the final series.

“I watched D.A. and Jimmy (Clausen), they don’t play in 20-something games last year. And they get up and they observe and learn and get those mental reps,” Smith said Friday. “I told (Newton), ‘You can get some mental reps or you can sit on that bench and sulk.’”

Smith said Newton initially brushed off his suggestion.

“Right when they pulled him, I found out and I just told him, ‘Come on over here. Pay attention.’ And he didn’t want to,” Smith said. “And that’s why I said what I said.”

Smith, a team captain, said he used some “unchoice words” with Newton, who was criticized last year for putting a towel over his head and sitting on the bench at the end of losses.

After he was publicly critical of Clausen in 2010, Smith developed a good rapport with Newton after the Panthers drafted him No. 1 overall last year. They worked out together during the lockout, and both made the Pro Bowl last season.

“I don’t want to be passive and not do it. Because if I don’t do it or if I am afraid to say something, who will?” Smith said. “So yeah, I got into him, I lit into him, because I thought it was an opportunity for him to see and understand what’s going on. This is more than about playing football. It’s about becoming a man.”

Like 2011

This is the second time in as many seasons that team leaders have talked to Newton about his demeanor. Veteran offensive linemen Jordan Gross and Ryan Kalil took Newton aside late last season and told him he needed to bring more positive energy to the huddle.

Newton, 23, said at the time he took their advice. During the offseason, Newton referred to himself as a “bad teammate.”

Smith and others cited Newton’s youth and competitive nature for his public displays of frustration.

“You’ve got to live and grow. And that’s the part with growing pains, with having a young team. God knows I’ve displayed my growing pains a lot more than other people,” Smith said. “I used some unchoice words, some words that I won’t take back as far as how I said it.

“But I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to say it because I think it’s important.”

Newton was not available for comment Friday. A team spokesman said he would next speak to the media on Wednesday, per the team’s normal policy with Newton.

A bad outing

Newton completed 16 of 30 passes for 242 yards against the Giants. His passer rating of 40.6 was the lowest of his career.

After being a part of national championship teams at three colleges, Newton has a 7-12 record as a starting NFL quarterback.

“I’ve always thought Cam was a pretty incredible competitor and he wears it on his sleeve. When it’s high, it’s high. When it’s low, it’s low,” said Gross, an offensive captain along with Smith. “I don’t have really any problems with how he carries himself, as long as the underlying motive on everything is he wants to win.”

Rivera said he believes questions about Newton’s leadership skills will become moot when the Panthers start winning.

“I’m not (concerned). I’ll deal with Cam in my way as well,” said Rivera, who declined to elaborate on his dealings with Newton.

“If something positive happens, do we want to hide the emotions? If something negative happens, do we want to hide the emotions? There’s a fine line,” Rivera said. “And we know that’s one position that everyone looks at and will look to. He’s learning. He’s learning to adjust and cope with it. This is not easy. This is a tough situation we’re all in. We’re all trying to learn how to win.”

Not uncommon

Anderson, an eight-year veteran who went to the Pro Bowl with the Browns, said he had to grow up, too. Anderson, then with Arizona, faced questions two years ago after TV cameras showed him laughing on the sideline near the end of a 27-6 loss to San Francisco in a Monday night game.

“You learn not to smile – I did,” Anderson said.

Asked if a quarterback is obligated to stay more upbeat and engaged, Anderson said: “I think we all can work on that. It’s hard because there’s a lot of stress, a lot of pressure you put on yourself. Our teammates expect a lot out of our position. When you don’t play as well as you expect out of yourself, it’s frustrating. It’s hard to stand up and say, ‘Hey, I played like crap.’ That’s hard to face.

“For him, he’s not used to losing. He lost last year. Being with him every day, I know how much he wants to win and how much he puts into it. So I understand the frustration, but it’s a maturation process for all of us. I was the same way.”

Rivera said he sat Newton, who cut his finger on his throwing hand, so he wouldn’t take any more hits. But he left the other starters in the game.

Smith caught two passes from Anderson in the final 69 seconds, with the Panthers trailing by 29.

“I think quarterback is different. Plus, when you have a guy like Steve who wants to play, you let him play because it’s an example to the rest of the team,” Rivera said. “You’re down but he wants to continue to play. And he kept fighting. There was no way I was letting the quarterback back on the field.”

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