At Westlake High, the University of Florida, Blinn College, Auburn University and the Carolina Panthers, Cam Newton has never missed a game because of injury.
Newton has a hairline fracture in his ribs, and he’s a game-day decision for Sunday’s season opener against Tampa Bay.
“I’ve never missed a game, but we’re not going to make a story out of that,” Newton said, “because I am human.”
It’s not just a story this week. It’s the story.
A day after he missed his first practice as a professional because of injury, the Carolina Panthers starting quarterback and two-time Pro Bowler took limited reps at Thursday’s practice as soreness in his ribs dissipated.
“We increased his work (Thursday), and again, (Friday) will be a big day,” coach Ron Rivera said. “It’s all about how he feels the next day. We were concerned a little bit coming out of (Wednesday’s) practice. We wanted to see how he was this morning. He had a lot of energy today, moved around pretty well. We stayed to the schedule.”
Whether the schedule included throwing is unclear. Twice Rivera declined to say if Newton threw after he did not throw Wednesday or during the half-hour portion of practice open to the media Thursday. Newton also avoided the question by saying, “I did what I was coached to do.”
He was a few minutes late to practice after he received treatment following the morning walk-through. He stretched with the team, took snaps under center and out of the shotgun from Ryan Kalil, stretched on the side with assistant strength coach Jason Benguche and handed the ball to the running backs during the portion of practice open to the media.
In the two weeks since injuring his ribs, Newton has expressed confidence in his ability to be healthy enough for the Buccaneers. That confidence seemed to wane as he began hedging his bets.
“We have days,” Newton said, “and then in a couple of days, we’ll be down to hours, and then we’ll be down to minutes and hopefully when that clock starts I will be on that field. I’m being optimistic about this whole thing and I have no other choice but to think that way.”
Rivera credited the lack of confidence to Newton’s soreness this week. Though he has taken every first-team snap during the six walk-through practices going back to last week, Newton was sore after the team worked him out this weekend and wasn’t healthy enough to practice Wednesday.
Rivera said he will listen to everyone – trainers, doctors, general manager Dave Gettleman and Newton – before making the decision. He indicated there’s thought to sitting Newton this week to ensure long-term health this season.
“This is not just about Game 1 also,” Rivera said. “Let’s be realistic. This is not a sprint, this is a marathon. You may not start as fast as you want, but at the same time you want to start smart.”
Still, Newton won’t change the way he plays. Not wanting anyone to misconstrue his words, he made a point to say he will only play football the way he knows how.
That style has helped him become one of the most dynamic dual-threat quarterbacks in league history, but it has also led to him taking more hits than any other quarterback in the past three seasons.
He won’t lie to his teammates and coaches about his health, though. The last thing Newton wants to do, he said, is put his team in jeopardy.
“One thing I will do is I’ll be truthful to myself and be truthful to coach Rivera,” Newton said. “If it comes in my mind and say, you know what, this is how I feel, then I have to stick with it and I’ll stick with it wholeheartedly. … If I say, ‘coach, let me go,’ I’m pretty sure he’ll trust and believe I’m not fibbing to him or give him any doubt that I’m telling the truth.”