Tuesday, May 22, 2018

(Sports) Norv Turner: Cam Newton can be the 'toughest guy to defend'










CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Norv Turner is anxious.
The new Carolina Panthers offensive coordinator has high expectations he can help Cam Newton become the most dangerous -- and maybe efficient -- quarterback in the NFL.


He's seen in the meeting room how receptive the No. 1 overall pick of the 2011 draft has been in adapting to his philosophy. He's been impressed with Newton's work ethic.
But Turner hasn't seen Newton against competition, so he's as anxious as anybody for Phase 3 of offseason workouts that began Tuesday morning. Turner even had some support show up at practice in the form of a Troy Aikman visit.
"We spent a lot of time in the last six weeks with the things we're doing and the adjustments we're making," Turner told ESPN.com as he anticipated Newton working in 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills. "We've been able to do individual technique work.
"So getting to go against our own defense the next 12 practices, I'll get a lot of feel for Cam."
Turner also will get a better feel for backups Garrett Gilbert and Taylor Heinicke. Between them they have thrown one pass -- Heinicke last season for Houston -- in a regular-season game.
Barring a last-minute decision to re-sign veteran Derek Anderson, it will be the first time Newton hasn't had a veteran quarterback behind him, so the development of Gilbert and Heinicke will be crucial.


But most of the focus now will be on Newton, coming off two straight down years after his MVP season of 2015, and how he does in Turner's system that will focus on more play-action and high-percentage passes.
"I see Cam as a guy that can be in the mid- to high-60s in the completion percentage," Turner said.
That would be a huge leap for Newton, who has a career passing percentage of 58.5 and a 56.0 rate the past two seasons combined.


"We're working hard in terms of scheming and getting the ball out quick," Turner said. "We want a good mix of dropback, play-action."
Since Newton arrived from Auburn, the Panthers' offense has been based around the zone-read, where a quarterback's second option if he doesn't hand off to the running back is to run himself.
That will remain a part of the scheme. But under Turner you'll hear a lot more about the RPO -- Run Pass Option -- in which the quarterback's second option is to drop back and throw.
"To me, Cam is one of the three or four -- if not the hardest -- guys to defend in the league," Turner said. "Coaches spend extra time when they play against Cam Newton because he can beat you in so many different ways.
"Our intention is to expand on those things that he can do well and things he may not have been exposed to yet."
Adding more speed and talent around Newton was imperative this offseason. The Panthers traded for Philadelphia wide receiver Torrey Smith, a legitimate deep threat. They signed Jarius Wright in free agency because of what he can do in the underneath passing game.
They selected Maryland wide receiver D.J. Moore in the first round because he brings the speed and toughness of former Carolina wide receiver Steve Smith Sr. They drafted tight end Ian Thomas out of Indiana at the top of the fourth round to be a receiving threat opposite Pro Bowler Greg Olsen.
They added running back C.J. Anderson to bring the tough, physical running style that Jonathan Stewart once did and to be a change-of-pace player for 2017 first-round draft pick Christian McCaffrey.


"The more people you get around a quarterback that can make plays, the more opportunities he has to be productive," Turner said.

The next three weeks are the start of making sure everybody is on the same page. But ultimately Turner's goal is to do for Newton what he helped do for Dallas quarterback Troy Aikman and Philip Rivers of the Chargers, to name a few.
On paper, Newton (6-foot-5, 245 pounds) would appear to be the most unique quarterback Turner has coached because of all he can do with his arm and legs. But don't forget Turner coached undersized Doug Flutie (5-10) during the 2001 season at San Diego. The Chargers went from 28th in the NFL in total offense in 2000 to 11th.
"They're all unique," Turner said of the quarterbacks he's coached. "[But] I really believe defensive coaches look at Cam as tough a guy to defend as there is. I personally believe he can be the toughest guy to defend.


"Defensive coordinators don't like quarterbacks that can scramble. And then you have the zone-read you have to prepare for and his ability to throw the ball anywhere on the field. We've just got to build on those things."
As for the backups, Turner coached Heinicke in 2015 and part of the 2016 season at Minnesota. He was impressed with his decision-making and ability to make plays with his arm and legs.
His only exposure to Gilbert was what he saw in preseason games on film, but he sees potential.
Can either do what Nick Foles did last season, leading Philadelphia to a Super Bowl victory against New England after starter Carson Wentz suffered a season-ending ACL tear in Week 14? Can either be as good as Newton?
"I don't know that there is anyone else in the league that can do all the things [Newton] can do," Turner said. "He's very unique. But I don't think Nick Foles could do the things their starter could do. When you play another guy you have to play to those strengths."


Turner isn't overly concerned about the lack of experience behind Newton -- at least not yet.
"Last year was a great example of guys stepping up and playing who really had not had a lot of success in their past," said Turner, referring not only to Foles but Case Keenum in Minnesota. "Somewhere along the way you're probably going to play a guy that has limited experience.
"Foles had struggled with a couple of teams, and then he got into a good situation with good coaches and good players."
Ultimately Turner is counting on Newton to take his game to the next level.
"Cam has shown great leadership," Turner said. "I think he likes the things we're working on and the other guys have taken to what we're doing. ... This next month we should grow a lot and be a lot better."