Cam Newton’s play at Wednesday’s practice was among the best Panthers coach Ron Rivera had ever seen from his quarterback in a practice.
He had another good day Thursday, making good and quick decisions and hitting his targets for the most part.
As Newton enters his fifth season as an NFL quarterback, Rivera said he sees better footwork and better decision-making from the 26-year-old.
“I think it’s all part of his growth,” said Rivera at the end of veteran minicamp Thursday. “Again, he’s a young man. He came into this league after playing only one year of major-college football. He wasn’t as advanced as your Russell Wilsons or your Andrew Lucks that played four and five (college) seasons.
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“I think it’s been good for him. I think his development is really headed in the right direction and again the big plus is we’ve had him (healthy) for all the OTAs (organized team activities) and minicamp this year.”
Newton has expressed one of his goals this offseason was to improve his accuracy and consistency. He worked with quarterbacks coach Ken Dorsey and offensive coordinator Mike Shula on his footwork, which has long been the root of many of his passing issues.
“It’s all about footwork and trusting the protection,” Newton said. “When you do that and you’ve got guys who are running the routes as precise as we were this camp, it makes it easy for me to do.”
Where Newton has gotten himself into trouble in his pro years has been not getting his feet set in the pocket. With his strong arm, he doesn’t always get his feet set when throwing off his back foot.
Those regularly result in passes that sail high or late passes. Newton has a career completion percentage of 59.5 percent, and his 58.5 percent clip last year ranked 29th in the league. He’s said he wants to be between 65 and 70 percent this season.
“That’s one thing that Kenny and Mike have been working with him on, getting his footwork in the proper position and then getting set and throwing the ball,” Rivera said. “That’s something they’re going to continue to harp on. I saw a couple of new drills I hadn’t seen in the past as far as getting his footwork down. And you do see the difference. (Wednesday) was about as good as I’ve seen him as far as practice.”
As far as decision-making goes, Rivera sees Newton not going for it all each play. Carolina lacked the big plays last year, getting only 48 pass plays of 20 or more yards last year.
Rivera said Newton tends to “stick with a guy a little too long” downfield because of his ability to stay upright and dodge defenders. But now the quarterback is becoming more aware of his safety valves, or short passes, Rivera said.
“I think he’s learning that, ‘OK if I don’t have it right now, let me just give it to one of our guys and let him catch it and run,’ ” Rivera said. “We’ve got guys that can make you miss. You guys saw a couple of those guys the last few weeks—Fozzy Whittaker, Jonathan Stewart and Mike Tolbert—with the ball in their hands out of the backfield how dangerous they can be.
“Then you run some crossing routes with Corey Brown and Teddy Ginn and all of a sudden they’re off to the races. I think he’s learning and understanding that part of the offense.”
Newton called the receiving group the “finest competition since I’ve been here.” He said everyone is expecting great things for each other at every position, and he plans to continue to work on team chemistry throughout the summer.
After his foundation’s 7-on-7 tournament next week, Newton will plan for the group to get together in July and train, likely at receivers coach Ricky Proehl’s facility in Greensboro.
Any vacation plans for the five weeks before the start of training camp?
“Just work,” Newton said. “Just a little work.”
Jones: 704-358-5323; Twitter: @jjones9