Football / Sports

Cam Newton wants ankle to be 100 percent before he hits field

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton batted around several interesting topics Wednesday.

Newton congratulated San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick on his new contract, although he said he wasn't worried about what Kaepernick's six-year, $126 million deal meant for Newton's future contract negotiations.

Newton also had a couple of funny comments about the outside perception of the Panthers' patched-together wide receiver group.

But the thing Newton kept coming back to was the health of his surgically repaired left ankle, or as he called it, "Little Anky."

Newton, who had surgery March 19 to tighten the ligaments in the ankle, said he has reached a plateau in his rehab: boredom.

"Physically, I'm coming along fine. I think I'm on pace to be right where I'm expected to be. Mentally, I'm bored," Newton said. "Watching film, going over those things, becomes monotonous. But I know it's making me better.

"But six or seven weeks of the same thing, watching game film after game film, making the right corrections and helping those guys out at practice, you kind of feel (like), 'Man, I wish I could be out there.' "

Newton said he hopes he'll be back for the Panthers' three-day minicamp next week. But considering he still has pain in the ankle when he steps awkwardly, the more realistic goal remains the start of training camp in late July.

Newton said he doesn't want any setbacks when he returns.

"Some days I wake up and I'm like, 'OK, I'm 100 percent,' " he said. "And as I'm walking to work, I hit one stone and it twists the wrong way and you're reminded – humbly reminded – oh my God, it hurts."

Panthers coach Ron Rivera said Newton has been to about six of the first nine organized team activities, where he throws on the side and after practice with the team's new receivers.

Newton missed Wednesday's practice to stay inside the stadium for rehab. But Rivera said Newton is progressing well.

"It's no different surgery than anybody who had ankle problems would have had. So much was made of it, but honestly it was a routine thing," Rivera said. "And based on the way he's recovering, I expect him to be there."

The Panthers completely overhauled the receiving corps during the offseason. Gone are franchise receiving leader Steve Smith, former No. 2 wideout Brandon LaFell and deep threat Ted Ginn Jr.

Taking their place are first-round draft pick Kelvin Benjamin and three veterans who arrived in Charlotte without much acclaim, Jerricho Cotchery, Jason Avant and Tiquan Underwood. They joined inexperienced holdovers Tavarres King and Marvin McNutt.

Some of the early reviews were not kind.

"Those guys have already accepted the challenge. You don't need to go in there and tell those guys, 'Hey, you're projected the sorriest receiver (group) in the NFL.' We already know," Newton said.

"But with that, those guys have that fire in their eyes. I'd rather for those guys to be like that and for them to go out and bust their tails like they've been doing. It's kind of like a slap in – not only their faces, but mine, as well."

But Newton said he and the receivers are using the negative press as fuel to get through the grind of OTAs, or in Newton's case, the monotony of rehab.

"For you to hear some things that's said, it's actually as if you're being picked up from the street and saying, 'Hey, you want to play receiver?' " Newton said. "But we accept the challenge. We have fun with it. That's the chip on our shoulder."

The take on the two players competing to protect Newton's blind side -- left tackle candidates Byron Bell and Nate Chandler -- also has been less rosy.

But Newton said he has confidence in the two tackles, who are vying for the spot vacated when Jordan Gross retired.

As for Kaepernick's contract – a team-friendly deal that includes a number of "de-escalators" that could cut into the $61 million in guaranteed money – Newton didn't reveal much other than to say he sent a congratulatory text to Kaepernick.

Newton is entering the fourth year of his rookie deal. The Panthers picked up the club option on Newton for 2015 at $14.67 million, although the going rate for franchise quarterbacks is between $18 million and $20 million a year.

(c)2014 The Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, N.C.)

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