Why Cam Newton's locker-room passes are a big deal

Dan Wetzel
Columnist

Cam Newton strolled into the Carolina Panthers’ locker room Monday morning and threw a football 45 times. To repeat, this was the locker room. “The furthest throw traveled 10 lockers,” according to Panthers.com’s Bill Voth, inventing a new measure of distance.

With Newton coming off March surgery to repair a partially torn rotator cuff, this was deemed newsworthy enough not merely for the team to mention the minor rehab session, but to film it and release a hype video set to music. Yes, that’s Cam tossing a football to head trainer Ryan Vermillion.

Overkill? Not really.

One of the unknown variables, a true X-factor that can alter the 2017 NFL season, may be whether Newton can return to his 2015 form, when he ascended to true dominance, was named league MVP and led the Panthers to the Super Bowl with a dominating 17-1 record.

The Denver defense ended the dream season that day. All last fall, Newton and the Panthers struggled to reclaim their previous level of excellence, an issue complicated when Newton was injured on Dec. 11 in a game against San Diego. He played through the pain in a last-ditch and futile effort to make the playoffs.

Super Bowl losers often suffer from hangovers the following year, and Carolina epitomized that trend, finishing a dispiriting 6-10. A team that won 17 of 18 games suddenly captured just six of its last 17.

It’s why it’s easy to forget about Carolina, and in particular how, after a 49-15 blowout of Arizona in the NFC championship game, it felt like this was about to become Cam Newton’s league, as he appeared to be an impossible to stop, total-package quarterback.

Cam Newton runs during the Panthers’ minicamp in Charlotte, N.C. (AP)

So, yes, when Cam is throwing for the first time in six months, it’s significant.

“A lot of anticipation,” he told Panthers.com. “Obviously, it’s still not 100 percent, but seeing the ball come out of my hand in a throwing motion was good.”

In hindsight, Newton should have skipped the final three games of the 2016 season. There was a long-shot chance the Panthers could somehow qualify for the playoffs. As such, Cam was playing.

“Stubbornness,” Newton said. “I wanted people to know what I’m willing to do for this franchise. At the end of the day, no one could say I quit.”

Newton and the Panthers thought the injury would heal without surgery. Three months after the season though, it wasn’t responding as desired in rehab. The procedure in March wasn’t ideal timing, but it also didn’t matter too much. A minicamp was missed, but that’s immaterial for a former MVP. It’s all about training camp, or especially the start of the season. Newton assures that won’t be an issue. The plan is to throw with the trainer for the next four weeks.

“When I say it’s not 100 percent, I’m noting the range of motion part,” Newton said. “Like if you sleep with your legs hanging off your bed the whole night, you’re going to wake up and be super stiff. Or like sitting on your hands, or sitting in an awkward position and finally getting up and moving – that’s how I feel …

“I want to be 100 percent come training camp,” Newton continued. “There’s no doubt that I will be. Shoot, in two weeks, I’ll be ready to rock and roll.”

He’ll enter this season with some new and desperately needed offensive weapons. Because Newton has the ability to control football games, it’s easy for an offense to become too reliant on his talents.

To address that, Carolina picked up multipurpose running back Christian McCaffrey, who’s as good running as he is catching, out of Stanford with the eighth pick overall. Then in the second round it went with Curtis Samuel, a similar athlete and combo running back/wide receiver with Ohio State. Offensive lineman Taylor Moton was also taken in the second round.

It’s a team game and Carolina’s defense needs work, but Cam has options now. The offense should be fun to watch, a necessity in a division with Atlanta and a conference with Dallas, Green Bay and Seattle.

So now we get a late June hype video. Now we get the most humble of rehab workouts, light tossing with yardage measured by locker stalls, set to a beat.

No matter. Cam Newton is throwing a football and vowing to be back to his old self. If that happens, and he carries the Panthers the way he has in the past, then Carolina can be a team to watch again … in real actual games.