Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton says there is "no doubt" that he will be ready and able to suit up for his team's season opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers next weekend.
Newton, 25, has been coping with a hairline fracture to his ribs, suffered in last weekend's preseason game against the New England Patriots. The 6-5 signal-caller will not play in the team's final preseason tilt against the Pittsburgh Steelers tomorrow night.
In addition to his latest ailment, Newton underwent ankle surgery in March. The procedure was done to alleviate soreness and to tighten his ligaments. Newton missed most of the team's offseason program due to his subsequent recovery process. He made his preseason debut on August 17.
Newton's latest injury has caused some concern, though both the player and head coach Ron Rivera are not worried about his week 1 status. Rivera has said that the team will prepare for Tampa as normal, and will not restrict any segment of the team's offense, including the zone-read and other designed runs for Newton. I Cam who I Cam: Newton says he'll be ready to play week 1 against the Buccaneers.
The quarterback, meanwhile, has expressed confidence and optimism in his body after a long offseason of rehabilitation, and insists his latest hurdle is not much of an obstacle.
"My body feels better,'' said Newton. "It's obvious my ribs were hurting. I'm moving forward trying to stay positive and optimistic about this whole process. It's given me even greater focus on trying to heal my ankle at the same time.''
The injuries are important to consider when factoring in the pressure Newton faced last season. Per Pro Football Focus, Newton was the recipient of the 4th-highest amount of blitzes. The Panthers' offensive line remains somewhat in flux, following the retirement of longtime leader and stalwart Jordan Gross.
In addition, Newton will be throwing to an almost exclusively different set of receivers, with Steve Smith, Brandon LaFell, and Ted Ginn all having moved on this offseason. Pro Bowl center Ryan Kalil and tight end Greg Olsen return, as do running backs Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams, but the offense, as a whole, still has much jelling to do.
Rookies Trai Turner and Kelvin Benjamin will be counted on early and often. Newton is said to have built a close bond with Benjamin, the team's first-round draft choice out of Florida State. The 6-6 receiver has emerged as a likely number one target for his quarterback on the perimeter, and Newton's progression as a passer will be key in Benjamin's development as well.
As for the nature of his game, Newton says he will keep doing what he's been doing, while hoping to help his team defend their NFC South crown.
"I am who I am,'' Newton said. "Things do happen. One thing you know playing this game is you will get hurt sooner or later. This is a physical sport and needs to be played that way.''
Rivera admitted that he would like to see Newton protect himself better when faced with oncoming contact, but agreed to his quarterback's general sentiments about not changing things up.
"This is a physical game and it's got to be played physically," Rivera said when asked about the latest Cam Newton injury. "Hopefully, he'll learn, but he is who he is. That's why he has so many great moments for us is that he tries to win at everything he does. Should he slide? Yeah, I'd like to see him slide. But at the same time I want him to play the way he plays best.''
Newton is expected to sit out the remainder of this week, and his latest injury will be re-evaluated over the weekend, with an intent to return to practice on Monday, as the Panthers officially enter week 1. Carolina's backup quarterbacks are Derek Anderson and Joe Webb.