Just over a week after expressing "no doubt" in regards to his week 1 status, Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton's availability for Sunday's season-opening tilt against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers is suddenly in question.
Newton, suffering from hairline fractures in his ribs, did take part in throwing drills during Friday's practice, a positive step in the right direction after failing to do so in Thursday's session. Having missed practice altogether Wednesday, Newton has seemingly made a bit of progress each day, though head coach Ron Rivera Ron Rivera says he will wait until game day to make the final call on his signal-caller's status.
In addition to his rib ailments, suffered in an August 22 preseason game against the Patriots, Newton underwent ankle surgery in March. The procedure was done to tighten ligaments in the joint. Having been limited at times through the offseason program by his lower-body issue, Newton now faces an upper-body dilemma, and although he will be wearing a flak jacket, the Panthers are sure to be concerned about their quarterback's health and physical state, in general, with a long season only days from kicking off.
"There's some things you can't measure," Rivera said, "and that's how he'll react when he gets hit. So when we make our decision Sunday morning, it's going to be based on how we feel he's done the last couple of days, how he feels in terms of handling what we want to do with the game plan and whether or not we believe he'll be able to protect himself if he takes a shot."The Panthers will wait until Sunday to make a final call on Cam Newton's week 1 status.
Rivera had mentioned last week that the team's playbook was unlikely to be affected by Newton's injury, though that may no longer be the case. The Panthers could look to limit some of the designed zone-read plays that Newton can be so effective on with his legs, but they may need to exhaust all options in order to emerge from Sunday's road game victorious against an improved Tampa Bay defense.
In the event that Newton can not play, veteran Derek Anderson is preparing as if he will be the man under center. The Panthers like what Anderson brings to the table in terms of his knowledge of the system and rapport with the team's new corps of receivers. Rivera mentioned that the Panthers' staff felt confident that Anderson could handle the game plan in full, if called upon.
The team could look to call on their experienced duo of tailbacks in DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, though Newton, himself, usually contributes toward fielding an effective run game.
Newton is officially listed as 'questionable' on the team's injury report, submitted to the league on Friday. Speaking after Friday's practice, Rivera expressed cautious optimism in relation to his quarterback's status.
"I do feel better. He did take the next step, kind of what we were hoping, especially in light of how he felt the other day," the Panthers' coach said. "There was some concern obviously coming into practice. But he just seems to be getting stronger right now. So again, we're going to evaluate him, watch the tape, see how he looked to make sure he's technically and fundamentally sound."
Newton is clearly not quite 100%, and the Panthers may be flashing some gamesmanship by keeping Tampa guessing, though both sides are sure to be preparing as if the 2011 offensive rookie of the year will be starting Sunday.
Cautious optimism, to an extent, though any positive hope is good news for the Panthers.