Cam hopes to bounce back from 2016 nightmare

28 Jul


For Cam Newton, the nightmare remains a vivid one.

Carolina’s quarterback — an MVP two seasons ago — has yet to wipe the memory of last year’s ultra-rocky campaign, a journey fraught with physical punishment and on-field calamity.

“I took last year personal,” Newton said Thursday, via The Charlotte Observer. “I took it extremely personal and I knew something had to change, starting with myself.”

In his first meeting with reporters since January, Newton spoke philosophically about watching the Panthers tumble through a season that saw them go from NFC champions to a 6-10 afterthought.

“Extremely humbling,” said Newton, who hit camp at a trim 246 pounds — down 10-15 pounds from last year — and ready to throw again after February surgery to mend a partially torn rotator cuff.

Since entering the league in 2011, no quarterback has absorbed more hits than Newton, a dynamic that undermined the team last season and put the Panthers on a path to reimagine their offense for 2017. With explosive first-round running back Christian McCaffrey set for a critical role in the backfield, Newton is expected to trade in heavy-duty work on the ground for a passing attack that will lean on quick strikes to McCaffrey and fellow rookie Curtis Samuel.


The idea that Cam will abandon the run, though, is nonsense.

“You going to expect a lion not to roar?” Newton asked. “You’ve got to really ask yourself that, like I couldn’t imagine talking to (Tom) Brady or Aaron (Rodgers) or Matt Ryan or (Drew) Brees and saying, ‘Hey, you going to stay in the pocket all day like that?’ In my career over the whole body of work, the things that have put me at an advantage most times is having that ability to run.”

To Newton’s point, he set a career high in 2015 with 132 scampers on the ground, part of a mesmerizing on-field campaign that led Carolina to the Super Bowl. During last year’s mess, Newton ran the ball just 90 times, easily the lowest carry-count of his NFL career. Ultimately, it’s not about the pure number of gallops. The mission in Carolina is creating an environment where the quarterback isn’t asked to repeatedly save the day all by himself.

This season, it’s time to give Superman some help.

Here’s what else we learned from Thursday’s training camp action:

1. Following an offseason of breathless coverage around the future of Kirk Cousins in Washington, the Redskins quarterback weighed in on his relationship with the club’s front office.

“I believe we’ve done a good job communicating between myself and the team,” said Cousins, who will make a cool $23.94 million this year under the franchise tag. “We’re all on the same page. We’ve done everything we possibly can do to get that settled and move forward. I think we’re all in a good place right now and we’ve got enough to worry about trying to get our offense playing at the level it’s going to need to have a great season … so I can be back in future years.”

Cousins can talk pretty about “future years” in Washington, but it’s just as likely he’s playing in San Francisco or elsewhere a year from now.

2. One of the better stories on Thursday came out of Minnesota, where Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater addressed the media for the first time since suffering a gruesome leg injury last August. While offering no timeline for his return, Bridgewater spoke with maturity and grace about his trials, saying: “Right now, I can’t even think long term. I have to take it one day at a time. Like I said, within the blink of an eye, it was taken away from me. Right now, I have to just focus on Teddy. Try to get healthy, and the rest will take care of itself.”

While Bridgewater praised the Vikings for their support, he’s scheduled to hit free agency this March after Minnesota failed to pick up his fifth-year option.

3. It was no surprise to see Le’Veon Bell stay away from the start of Steelers camp, but his contract-related absence drew a strong reaction from Antonio Brown. The All-Pro wideout told NFL Network’s Aditi Kinkhabwala that Bell “needs to be here in camp.”

4. Also out of Pittsburgh, the team revealed that wideout Martavis Bryant has yet to be “fully reinstated” by the league after missing all of last season due to his indefinite suspension. “Upon his conditional reinstatement in April, Martavis Bryant was made aware it was only the beginning of a process,” general manager Kevin Colbert wrote in a statement. “We have been informed by the NFL that Martavis is still in the process of being fully reinstated.”

The league takes its time with these cases, but we still expect Bryant in uniform when Pittsburgh visits Cleveland in the opener.

Bryant’s agent told NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport that the wideout has been going to all of his counseling and has another meeting today to help complete the process. It should be done within a week, per Bryant’s camp.

5. Is Rams defensive terror Aaron Donald preparing for a holdout? Los Angeles general manager Les Snead acknowledged that he’s unsure if the fourth-year lineman — set to make just $1,802,250 this season under his rookie deal — will report to camp. According to NFL Network’s Omar Ruiz, Snead referred to Donald’s status as a “complicated situation,” but emphasized the Rams are “working toward finding a solution.”

6. Soul-crushing commutes don’t scare Philip Rivers. The Chargers quarterback revealed Thursday that he plans to keep his family — eight kids! — planted in their San Diego-area home while making the daily 70-mile voyage from leafy Rancho Santa Fe to team headquarters in Costa Mesa. The plan is to have a driver tote Rivers around in a “mobile quarterback room” complete with game-film-watching technology. Still, as Dan Hanzus pointed out on the End Around, that’s about a 90-minute trek … twice a day. Men have been broken by less.

Transaction Corner

1. With Odell Beckham Jr. under contract for two more seasons, the Giants still have time to hammer out a big-money extension for their star wideout. “They haven’t begun as of yet, but … they’ll happen at the appropriate time,” team co-owner John Mara said of negotiations. “I don’t think we have a time frame on it. But we certainly don’t want to see him playing in another uniform.” Set to make just $1.839 million in 2017, Beckham — arguably the most electric player league-wide — expects a king’s ransom, saying Thursday: “I believe that I will be hopefully not just the highest-paid receiver in the league, but the highest paid, period.”

2. Chris Borland, Patrick Willis and Jason Worilds are just a few of the recent rash of NFL players to call it quits at an early age. On Thursday, the league added another name to that list as Ravens offensive lineman John Urschel announced his retirement after just three seasons. Pursuing a Ph.D. at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the 26-year-old Urschel — like Borland — has options beyond football. For Baltimore, Urschel’s decision strips the team of a reliable, versatile blocker who was slated to play center. That role now goes to either Ryan Jensen or Matt Skura.

3. Those of you tracking the Alejandro Villanueva drama in Pittsburgh will be happy to know the productive left tackle struck a four-year deal with the Steelers on Thursday. Villanueva, 29, was an exclusive rights free agent who talked openly about holding out for more money. Wish granted.

4. The Cowboys on Wednesday added depth at running back with the signing of free-agent Ronnie Hillman. After stops with the Broncos, Vikings and Chargers, Hillman is no guarantee to even make the team behind Ezekiel Elliott, Darren McFadden and Alfred Morris. And, no, this move has nothing to do with a potential suspension for Elliot, according to NFL Network’s Jane Slater.

5. The Titans added depth at outside linebacker with the signing of Erik Walden, who logged a career-best 11 sacks with Indianapolis last season. With Derrick Morgan and Brian Orakpo in the building, look for defensive play-caller Dick LeBeau to use the 31-year-old Walden as a situational quarterback nuisance.

Injury Updates

1. Denver’s depth at running back is already being put to the test. Rapoport noted Thursday that Devontae Booker will open camp on the physically unable to perform list with the wrist injury he suffered during minicamp. Coach Vance Joseph said Booker should be ready to go Week 1, but the setback ensures that C.J. Anderson and 30-year-old Jamaal Charles will lead the way in Denver out of the gate. The club on Thursday also signed ex-Patriots and Jets back Stevan Ridley.

2. Rob Gronkowski is full go for the Patriots. No surprise, either, after the star tight end looked good during OTAs and minicamp following December back surgery. “When we put those pads on, I’m definitely ready to take some hits,” Gronkowski said Thursday. He remains the league’s most dangerous tight end, but it’s fair to note that New England’s premier weapon hasn’t played a full 16 games in a season since 2011.

3. After Jordan Reed opened camp on the PUP list, Redskins coach Jay Gruden confirmed the tight end is dealing with a toe injury and twisted ankle. While this isn’t seen as a serious setback by the team, look for Reed to be handled with kid gloves.

4. The Ravens opened camp without the help of safety Tony Jefferson, who underwent sports hernia surgery in June, per The Baltimore Sun. No need for panic, though, as the team is simply playing it safe with their free-agent addition. Coach John Harbaugh confirmed Thursday that Jefferson is ready to go.

5. Meanwhile, from Dallas:

6. The Steelers boast one of the deepest receiving groups in the NFL, but they’ll go without Sammie Coates for a stretch. The third-year target expects to  miss at least two weeks of practice following a recent knee scope, per Kinkhabwala. Any extended absence — mixed with Bryant’s ongoing suspension — would mean more snaps for exciting rookie JuJu Smith-Schuster.

7. Bills wideout Sammy Watkins told reporters Thursday that his surgically-repaired “foot is fine,” and that his “rep count” at training camp is about him getting back into shape.

Signings, injuries, intrigue and snap counts: Football is back.

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