One of the bigger media stories out of Charlotte in the past week was the fact that Cam Newton was finally green lit for live game action for the first time since his offseason shoulder surgery. Obviously, for us as fans, this is pretty relieving news. Cam’s camp action was such a roller coaster ride being that one day he was full go, the next day he was sore and prohibited from throwing, the next day he threw individual drills and not team, and so on, etc. Cam barely threw in the 10 plays that he was on the field Thursday night against Jacksonville, but just seeing him out there leading the offense certainly helped ease any nausea fans would feel imagining Derek Anderson having to start a regular season game to buy Cam more recovery time. Even though it was a brief sample, Cam looked great to me.
Things to note of the drive:
- Of Cam’s 10 snaps, only two were passes. The other eight were hand offs to either Jonathan Stewart or Christian McCaffrey.
- Cam’s passes totaled for 21 yards including a touchdown
The drive started on the 25 yard line after the opening kick was downed as a touch back. Typically, when you’re on offense in a football game, the coordinator can call either a run or a pass play. That’s basic football 101. Normally, you have a 50% chance of guessing it correctly every time, but in the instance of Cam Newton’s preseason debut after recovering from shoulder surgery, you could have bet the house that the first play would be Cam handing the ball off. Not only did Cam hand the ball of on the first play, he handed the ball off to his backs the next five plays after that.
It was pretty evident that if Cam didn’t have to throw, then Ron Rivera and Mike Shula weren’t going to force the issue. Fortunately for them, Stewart and McCaffrey were both able to progress the ball down the field with relative ease. Aside from Stewart’s 31 yard rumble on the game’s second play from scrimmage, the Panthers didn’t gouge the Jaguars defense in huge chunks, but even though the odds of each play were overwhelmingly in favor of keeping the ball on the ground, the backs made positive gains every time.
There were two plays that Shula and Rivera did dial up for Cam to throw the ball, but the first one didn’t come until the Panthers were already sitting on Jacksonville’s 25 yard line. So much of Cam’s career as a passer has been defined on deep passes down the field. The arm strength he possesses is clearly an elite trait among the league’s other quarterbacks and the Carolina offense has utilized it to the fullest extent possible. It’s interesting that even though the scheme has dictated deep throws, the front office has made it a point to draft bigger receivers like Kelvin Benjamin and Devin Funchess to serve as Cam’s weapon foundation instead of going with Ted Ginn-esque receivers that can really stretch the field. The personnel would suggest that you’d use those bigger receivers to body up smaller defensive backs near the sticks, but it just hasn’t been the case.
The entire offseason was built and adjusted to help give Cam relief in the passing game. Former GM Dave Gettleman, drafted dynamic and speedy playmakers in Christian McCaffrey and Curtis Samuel to give Cam an out if the play was taking too long to develop. The main question was, can Cam adjust? Can a guy who has only thrown deep, or run for yards, his entire career successfully stay in the pocket and check down to receivers and backs on a regular basis? Well the two passes we saw from him last Thursday proved that it’s possible.
The first pass Cam made was a simple check down to McCaffrey who stood in the backfield and floated through the line when the blitz didn’t come and took Cam’s dump pass for 12 yards up the field. Three plays later, Cam threw a simple slant pass 4 yards across the middle to Kelvin Benjamin who took it the rest of the way for a nine yard score. For me as a fan, it was poetry in motion.
Cam’s night was done after the KB score. Frankly, there was really no need to play him any longer as easing him into week one is the smart play, but it was great to see him out there on the field again. It will be interesting to see if Rivera will run him out on the field against the Steelers for the preseason finale this upcoming Thursday night. Typically, for the fourth preseason game, Cam will have been shut down to prepare and rest for the season opener, but given the fact that his work load has been lighter this summer, we may see him for another drive.