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Panthers QB Newton gets off to solid, but rusty start

Sports Xchange - Tuesday 12th September, 2017

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Now that the Carolina Panthers realize that quarterback Cam Newton can be a difference-maker again this season, it's a matter of working him into practice so he can be more efficient.

Coming off offseason shoulder surgery and a limited preseason, there were plenty of questions about Newton. He had a solid opener given the circumstances, but it could have been much better in the 23-3 victory at San Francisco.

"A little rusty," head coach Ron Rivera acknowledged. "He's focusing in on what he needs to get done. The other guys are rallying around him. They understand he's a little rusty. It's about getting comfortable and getting his rhythm."

That will take time. Now that Newton should be able to work with the full practice repetitions, it will be important for the players around him to be going hard as well in those workouts.

"In practice, everybody has to understand we have to do it at top speed so he's getting his timing," Rivera said.

The good thing is that Newton often builds confidence in a hurry. That could be the case as well.

"You could see him getting his confidence back and having confidence in his guys," Rivera said.

The other player of note coming off a 2016 injury was linebacker Luke Kuechly. He was particularly active and made an interception as well, seeming to serve notice that he's ready for a potentially big season.

--The Panthers made good on their vow to get rookie running back Christian McCaffrey involved in the offense in a big way. They didn't wait around.

In his NFL debut, he had 20 touches, but veteran running back Jonathan Stewart's number was called more times in the rushing attack (18 carries to 13).

"We know that (McCaffrey) and Jonathan have to be balanced," head coach Ron Rivera said of the number of plays designed for each of the running backs. "I think it's a good tandem and we understand how we want to use those guys."

This was a homecoming game as well for McCaffrey, who played three seasons for nearby Stanford.

--The Panthers are counting so much on their second-year cornerbacks that to see them heading for medical treatment had to be unnerving.

That was the case in the opener for cornerbacks James Bradberry and Daryl Worley. In each situation, it was a matter of cramping.

"They both cramped up on the same play," head coach Ron Rivera said.

Given the situation in the third quarter, Rivera said he was hoping the offense could keep the ball for an extended possession. It worked out that way.

"We were able to chew up most of the third quarter," he said.

NOTES: K Graham Gano emerged from training camp barely keeping his first-string role, but he showed he might have deserved it by going 3 for 3 on field goals and booting his kickoffs through the end zone. ... LB Luke Kuechly's interception in the opener was the 13th pickoff of his career. But he only had one in an injury-riddled 2016 season when he played in 10 games. ... DT Star Lotulelei recovered a fumble for only the second time in his career, against the 49ers. Perhaps as important, he received praise from head coach Ron Rivera for his ability to be a space eater along the front. ... DT Vernon Butler has made considerable progress since suffering an ankle injury in the first preseason game, but he was among the inactive players for the opener.

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