SPARTANBURG, S.C. (AP) — Cam Newton’s stellar 2015 season helped him become the first Carolina Panthers player to earn NFL MVP honors.
Coach Ron Rivera thinks the quarterback’s encore season could be even better.
“To expect him to do more, people say, ‘Aw, you’re crazy,’” Rivera said. “But for him there always has to be that carrot, there always has to be that challenge. And I really do feel that he could even get better.”
Wearing a black straw hat with pins attached to it, Newton told reporters Friday that he’s excited to back at training camp where he can focus on football after an “excruciating” offseason spent filming his new kids’ TV show, “All in with Cam Newton,” and running his many volunteer events, including a 7-on-7 football tournament and kickball tournament.
He also said he’s put Carolina’s disappointing 24-10 Super Bowl loss to the Denver Broncos — and his much-criticized post-game news conference — behind him.
“I gain nothing (by) going back,” Newton said. “… We have passed that bridge and I have learned from it. Now it’s about making the most of this team.”
Newton said all of his focus is on 2016.
He’s spoken at length to a number of people he looks up to about how he can improve. Among those is Panthers owner/founder Jerry Richardson, who advised Newton to focus on “making the layups.”
“You hear it often — you can throw the comebacks and digs, but what about the check downs and the slants and getting back to the small nuances of the game that make big differences,” Newton said.
Panthers offensive coordinator Mike Shula said he’d like to see Newton’s completion percentage (59.8 percent) increase to about 65 percent this season.
There are other areas to focus on, too, Shula said.
“We still feel like we have huge room for improvement,” he said. “Getting the ball out faster, making consistent decisions and staying out of third-and-long situations. We did improve in a lot of areas last year, but you throw that out now. It’s a new season.”
Newton broke into a wide grin when asked about the return of his favorite weapon from two years ago, wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin.
The 6-foot-5, 245-pound Benjamin provides a huge target for Newton, something he missed at times last season. Benjamin impressed on Thursday night in his first practice since tearing his ACL, catching three passes from Newton in traffic during team drills.
Pro Bowl tight end Greg Olsen is back, as are wide receivers Devin Funchess, Ted Ginn Jr. and Philly Brown. The entire starting offensive line is back, too, giving the offense a measure of stability.
“Last year was not a mirage,” Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman said. “I cannot emphasize this enough: It’s really important to him. The kid is a tremendous competitor, and at the end of the day, all he wants to do is win.”
Olsen said he sees that every day.
He said Newton’s competitiveness and desire to win is off the charts, which is why he knows his quarterback won’t get complacent.
“Obviously his season last year is probably as good as it can be,” Olsen said. “But I know from being around Cam for some time that he’s never going to be satisfied with what he’s accomplished.”
He said that is what makes Newton special.
Olsen said the players who show up and think “I got it” are the ones who are going to plateau.
But he said Newton isn’t that type of player.
“He is the furthest from that type of personality,” Olsen said. “And I know that he will continue to work on whatever he feels he needs to do to get better.”
Then Olsen smiled and added, “But we will gladly take last year again.”