CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Cam Newton connected with Ted Ginn Jr. on a fade route in the left corner of the end zone last week.
He raced along the sideline screaming, laughing and playfully taunting the defense before culminating his touchdown celebration with a flying hip bump with the veteran wide receiver.
Yep, same old Cam.
If Newton is feeling any signs of pressure following the $103.8 million, five-year contract extension he signed June 2 — one that made him the highest-paid player in Carolina Panthers history — he certainly isn’t showing it on the field.
Newton did the same things he normally does in a typical practice. He was racing quarterbacks coach Ken Dorsey to the next drill, exchanging trash talk with linebacker Thomas Davis and keeping an otherwise mundane spring practice upbeat with his lively personality.
“He’s the same guy,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said after Thursday’s OTAs. “It’s funny, a lot of people said, ‘This will change him.’ This is not going to change who he is and I’m excited about what he is doing for us.”
Newton threw touchdown passes to Ginn and rookie Devin Funchess in the two two-minute drills he ran, the second score coming after he looked off his first two reads to find Funchess in the back of the end zone.
But after stirring up the defense with some good-natured taunting, defensive end Charles Johnson — who was the highest-paid player in franchise history before Newton’s blockbuster deal — got him back.
Johnson read a short pass by Newton perfectly, leaping in the air to pull down an interception.
Instead of celebrating, Johnson simply flipped the ball back to Newton and smiled while his defensive teammates roared with delight.
Newton could only smile and give a thumbs-up after Johnson’s athletic play.
“He enjoys playing, he enjoys competing, he enjoys giving the defense a hard time and it keeps it fun out here,” tight end Greg Olsen said. “These type of days can get a little monotonous especially as you get older and have done this a million times.”
Newton has an NFL-best 33 touchdowns rushing since coming into the league as the No. 1 overall pick in 2011.
But the question remains as to whether the Panthers will use him less as a runner now that they have so much invested in his future.
While Newton said earlier this week that “nothing about this contract changes my approach to this game,” he conceded that he’ll need to be a little smarter in avoiding big hits.
“I have to understand what I mean to this team,” Newton said. “We always have talks — coach Rivera and I, as well as (general manager) Dave Gettleman — about playing smart and being smart when I’m on the field. And I feel like I’ve done a great job to this point and will be more mindful of the hits that I take when running.”
There is also the matter of handling increased expectations.
Newton’s representatives Tony Paige, Chitta Mallik and Bus Cook negotiated a deal that got their client more than $60 million in guaranteed money, and the Panthers want results.
Gettleman said Tuesday that he believes Newton can get the franchise to “the Promised Land,” meaning their first Super Bowl title.
Newton said he welcomes that challenge.
Olsen, who went to his first Pro Bowl last season with Newton’s help, believes the 26-year-old quarterback will have no problem handling the increased expectations.
“Cam puts a lot of pressure on himself, and when you’re motivated internally I don’t think a lot of external factors have much impact on you,” Olsen said. “We haven’t seen much change in him in the last couple of days and I don’t foresee us seeing any in the near future.”
Neither does linebacker Luke Kuechly, the team’s leader on defense.
Kuechly said it’d be difficult to know Newton just became an extremely wealthy man judging by his work ethic on and off the field the past couple of days.
“Cam is going to be Cam,” Kuechly said. “He’s going to be excited, he’s going to smiling, he’s going to be talking, and running around and wearing all of his Under Armour stuff. I don’t think he will change at all.”
And as for the trash talk?
“I’d rather it be like that than it being quiet out here,” Kuechly said. “When it’s quiet out here it’s not fun.”
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