SPARTANBURG — Cam Newton says the only thing on his mind as the Panthers open training camp is a three-letter word: Win.
Sure, Newton is aware of the $100 million contracts awarded this offseason to fellow NFL quarterbacks Joe Flacco and Matt Ryan – as well as the hefty deal that could await him after the season.
But Carolina’s franchise signal caller said a big contract isn’t what motivates him entering year three.
On seeing Ryan’s five-year, $103.75 million extension, Newton shrugged it off saying, “I didn’t think anything. Good for him.”
Under the NFL’s new collective bargaining agreement Newton isn’t eligible for a contract extension until after this season. He’s currently under contract through 2014 with a team option for 2015.
To land a big contract, Newton – who is 13-19 as a starter and hasn’t led Carolina to the playoffs – first might have to prove he can win consistently at the NFL level.
And that’s what he’s out to do.
“Right now we have an opportunity to hone in and sharpen our blades with mechanics and understanding the overall offense and the scheme of things,” Newton said Friday prior to the team’s first training camp practice at Wofford College. “So that’s my main focus right now.”
Fullback Mike Tolbert is among several teammates who said Newton is more ready than ever to take on a leadership role.
Newton has been criticized at times for his lack of leadership skills.
Even teammate Steve Smith ripped into Newton early last season for pouting on the sidelines.
“I definitely see a change in him from last year at this time to this year,” Tolbert said. “He’s more vocal. He takes more command, as you think a franchise quarterback would. He’s just more confident.”
Newton said he feels more confident, and that stems from having played two seasons in the league.
“I think as time progresses anybody will start to sink their teeth into something and get confidence,” Newton said. “To me it’s about that to a degree, but it’s also understanding what this offense is about and knowing each and every person’s assignment and being a field general.”
Tight end Greg Olsen said that growing pains are inevitable with any player, particularly one that comes into the league under the spotlight as Newton did when he was drafted out of Auburn.
“It’s just that we all weren’t quarterbacks and the No. 1 pick and the Heisman trophy winner,” Olsen said. “He’s no different than any other young kid in the league. It’s just the rest of us didn’t get nitpicked for every facial expression and I think that’s just the really big difference between him and everybody else who made the transition into the league.”
“I think he’s going through the process as well as anyone could’ve hoped and obviously his play on the field has been great and the guys in the locker room are happy with him and the way he’s been.”
New Panthers offensive coordinator Mike Shula has made accommodations for Newton this offseason.
Shula has simplified the play calls.
One play, for example, that used to be called “Twins Right, Key Left, 631 Smash M” is now simply “Twins Right Tampa.”
The hope is that will allow the Panthers to break the huddle quicker and give Newton more time to make more adjustments at the line of scrimmage based on the defensive alignment.
Newton said the Panthers also plan to go with what he called “a more traditional running offense.”
The means leaning heavier on running backs DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart and Tolbert.
“To some degree that takes a lot of pressure off of me in the run game,” said Newton, who led the team in rushing last season with 741 yards.
But Newton was quick to add that if the Panthers need him to run the ball, he’s always there.
He just wants to win.
“I’m a football player,” Newton said. “Whatever it takes to get that three-letter word.”