Fowler: Different, more open Cam Newton shows up

sfowler@charlotteobserver.comOctober 25, 2012 

SPORTS COWBOYS-PANTHERS 32 CH

Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton is tackled on a run by Dallas Cowboys linebacker Dan Connor during third quarter action. The Dallas Cowboys beat the Carolina Panthers 19-14 in National Football League action, Sunday, October 21, 2012, in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Jeff Siner/Charlotte Observer/MCT)

JEFF SINER — MCT

Cam Newton seemed different Wednesday. Less guarded. More open.

The Carolina Panthers fired general manager Marty Hurney on Monday, and that move was still reverberating when Newton walked up to the podium for his regular session with reporters.

His weekly question-and-answer sessions are often remarkable only for their brevity. But Wednesday, Newton was expansive and quite likable. He sounded very little like the pouty, immature, regressing quarterback who has been described (usually from a thousand miles away) in several recent national columns on high-profile sports websites.

Instead, he sounded mostly like a second-year quarterback dedicated to making the 1-5 Panthers better – and one who realizes he’s got a long way to go to get really good.

All these were good signs. I’ve been around Newton off and on for about a year and a half now, and I still don’t feel like I know him well. But Wednesday, he at least cracked a window into his world.

For instance, why isn’t he on Twitter? This isn’t a big deal, but it’s an interesting question in an age where so many athletes have embraced tweeting as a way of sending unfiltered thoughts directly to their fans.

Speaking hypothetically, Newton said: “The social media world has turned into … they want to hear about Steve Smith or Jonathan Stewart drunk on North Tryon, rather than, ‘He’s on North Tryon giving away turkeys.’ One wrong tweet to the wrong person could lead to so much.

“I think if you do 10 tweets – you do nine amazing tweets they still don’t outweigh the one bad tweet a person may send off. You may send an ex-girlfriend your real feelings on how you feel and she sends it to TMZ or sends it to the Charlotte Observer.”

Personally, I think Newton has made the right call on Twitter. One day, yes. Right now, no. He does sometimes say something without thinking much about it – most people his age do. He needs to keep his life “simple and plain,” as he might say.

On to more important matters. Newton said he has had numerous one-on-one conversations with players and coaches – and one with team owner Jerry Richardson – since Richardson fired Hurney.

“That’s the nature of this business,” Newton said of Hurney’s dismissal. “And I got a full dose of what this business really is like on Monday.”

Like many Panthers, Newton sounded like he felt somewhat responsible for Hurney losing the job he had held since 2002. Said the quarterback:

“There were some things I feel I could have done for Marty to keep his job. … I’m talking about my play on the field. … I have the utmost respect (for Hurney). … And I just know Mr. Richardson is going for it in the manner he thinks this team has to go. And I’m all in cahoots with him.”

As for getting criticized for immaturity, lack of leadership or simply not playing as well, Newton said: “One thing that I’m not going to do is I’m not going to worry what people think of me in this setting. Because I guarantee you, if I was cussing everybody out and we’re 6-0: ‘Oh, that’s just Cam being Cam.’

“You’ve got the likes of Mike Tyson, Dennis Rodman, Charles Barkley – guys who have gone on and had that M.O. (and were able to get away with it, because they won).”

“Dennis Rodman, they knew he was going to get all the boards and that was just his M.O. When he came in with green hair, that’s Dennis. I guarantee if they were 0-82, he would have been out of the league way faster than he was. All the athletes I named were phenomenal athletes and they excelled at what they did.”

So, I asked Newton, what would happen if he showed up with green hair tomorrow?

“You want to find out?” he said. Then he added: “I’m just teasing. But I don’t know – it is getting close to Halloween.”

I’ve been critical of Newton many times – for reasons ranging from his misguided paid autograph signing this summer in Charlotte to his sideline demeanor when things aren’t going well.

But he has handled the past few days pretty well. He said Sunday after the loss to Dallas: “This taste, this vibe – I’m not buying it, man. And I don’t know what it is but something’s going to have to change. Something’s going to have to change real fast.”

I didn’t take that to mean Newton wanted Hurney fired – not by a long shot. Some people thought that, but I don’t believe it.

Coach Ron Rivera talked about Newton on Wednesday and admitted the Panthers may have tried too hard to get overly creative on offense this season.

“He’s had an up and down year,” Rivera said. “He’s done some really good things, and he’s struggling at some other things. … Part of it is about what we’ve done schematically. Part of the things we’ve tried to do is stay ahead of the curve. We may have gotten too far out there.”

“Last year we were a little bit of an unknown commodity. This year we’re a little bit more known. So I think it’s a combination of things.”

It is a combination of things. Some of that 1-5 record is Newton’s fault. Not all of it.

But at least, in a lot of ways, Newton seems to be trying hard to fix things. I’ll give him that.

Fowler: Twitter: @Scott_Fowler; sfowler@charlotteobserver.com

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