Panthers quarterback Cam Newton has a plan to become a better leader: He intends to keep his frustrations in check because, in the past, they have been a distraction to his teammates.
Newton took mistakes hard, his competitive drive leading to him getting down on himself – during and after games.
He told The Associated Press, “Oh man, I had it bad. I still do have it to some degree.”
But Newton says with the help of his coaches he’s getting better.
He’s changing his approach, and his new motto is: “Next play.”
The third-year pro’s has put up record-setting numbers, but said he’s learned the public sulking that has plagued him – and drawn much criticism – “can be a turnoff” and isn’t helping the team.
The Panthers are 13-19 in his two seasons, and just 2-12 in games decided by seven points or less.
However, the 6-foot-5, 243-pound signal-caller and his teammates believe late last season he improved dramatically when it came to controlling his emotions and the Panthers won five or their last six games.
“There are times when I am worried about the play where I overthrew (Steve Smith) – and now it is three plays later,” Newton said. “If I let that affect me the next ball is not going to be complete or it might be intercepted. It’s like a snowball effect. For me it’s about moving on and understanding that mistakes are going to happen. But you have to bounce back and make the most of each and every play.”
Too often Newton said he didn’t do that – or at least didn’t do it quick enough.
“I’ve learned that it needs to be, ‘Hey Cam, let’s put all of that aside and let’s go make plays and win us a football game,’” Newton said.
“But my turnover has to be quicker so I get by it mentally and say, ‘Hey I messed up, but now is not the time, nor the place to let it get me down.’”
Newton said offensive coordinator Mike Shula and quarterbacks coach Ken Dorsey have helped him work through that.
“They’ve been doing an unbelievable job with being that gnat in my ear, saying, ‘Cam, forget about it. Go to the next play,’” Newton said. “And that’s a good thing.”
Center Ryan Kalil agrees, adding that Newton’s attitude has been a distraction at times.
“In the past he’s worn it on his sleeve, which is fine,” Kalil said. “I think the criticism for him though is you have to clear it and go. You can’t wear it very long.
“It concerns guys that it brings him down a little bit. Emotionally it’s a tough game because you would like to win every game. There are ups and downs and you have to be able to reset and move on. ... You have to be able to restart the engine and get the energy back and get excited about what’s ahead.”
Newton called Shula a “perfect fit” for him as his offensive coordinator and called him a father figure. Shula has a calm demeanor that seems to mesh with Newton’s highly competitive, intense nature.
“He hates losing. We all know that,” Shula said. “Probably the biggest thing with Cam is maintaining that balance. Because everything around you during the football season is going to be up and down. The more you can continue to stay on an even plane and lead the group of guys around you, the more effective you are going to be as a quarterback.”
Said Newton: “When coach Shula says, ‘C’mon Cam, let it go,’ it automatically clicks now.
“Even though I want to say, ‘Coach, I can get that throw, Let’s run that play again,’ I realize now that may not be the smartest thing to do. He’s taught me is you have to move on, because that next play can be the difference in the game.”
Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman recently said Newton — and the Panthers — need to start winning more games, but believes he’s the player Carolina can build a franchise around.
“That’s big, big, big shoes right there,” said Newton, who is under contract for three more seasons — four if the Panthers use the franchise tag on him.
“But I don’t want to look down the road when you are talking franchise. I’m focused in the now and trying to make the most of each and every day. I think that can be very dangerous as a player when you look at what can happen instead of what is happening.”
Newton said his goal is to help the Panthers reach the playoffs in back-to-back seasons and become a consistent playoff contender. He believes this year’s team has the talent to reach the postseason after going 6-10 in 2012 and 7-9 last year.
But he also knows a lot will depend on how he responds to adversity.
“It can be a curse and a gift, but it’s made me who I am,” Newton said of his competitive drive. “I feel like if all of the criticism that I’ve received wouldn’t have happened, I wouldn’t be the person I am now.”