- Chris Sprow, ESPN Insider
When Cam Newton was preparing for the 2011 NFL draft, his entire program was designed around his development as a passer. Quite literally, no running.
First read, second read, third read -- if it wasn't there, Newton could move laterally, or backward, but he couldn't take off. It wasn't allowed. As George Whitfield, Newton's personal coach before the draft, said, "He'd always have that run option as his parachute, so he needed to learn about movement as a way to stay dangerous as a passer."
While it's ludicrous to say Newton came from a basic college offense that totally focused on the run -- Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn's system emphasized progressive reads, and the team led the nation in passing efficiency -- he was among college football's most devastating runners in 2010, with nearly 1,500 yards and 20 TDs. He came to the NFL with 14 total starts as a BCS quarterback, and half of the time he ran.
But on his way to the greatest rookie passing season in NFL history last year, Newton really did keep the parachute packed away more than most realize. Sure, he led all QBs in rushing with 706 yards, and TDs with 14, but in 10 games he ran seven or fewer times. What fan who saw Newton at Auburn would believe that as a rookie not once would Newton run for more than 65 yards? (He didn't.)
Carolina's offseason strategy of stashing perhaps the league's best stable of running backs suggests they want to run more to take the load off of Newton's arm, and perhaps his legs. But this raises two questions: First, is Newton not yet advanced enough as a passer for his arm to carry an NFL offense? And second, is running more as a team while having Newton run less the right strategy?
Cam Newton's rushing abilities make him a rare weapon, but for Carolina to reach its full potential the Panthers must bank on his continued improvement in the passing game.