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Newton doesn't look ready as season fast approaches

by | CBSSports.com Senior Writer
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While Cam Newton (No. 1 pick) looks shaky, second-round selection Andy Dalton is sharp. (AP)  
While Cam Newton (No. 1 pick) looks shaky, second-round selection Andy Dalton is sharp. (AP)  

CINCINNATI -- The Carolina Panthers still haven't named a starting quarterback, but it'll be an upset if it's not Cam Newton -- especially after coach Ron Rivera said Thursday night how good it was to see the rookie in "an extended role."

That's his opinion. Mine? It wasn't good at all.

In fact, if Newton demonstrated anything in three quarters of a 24-13 loss to Cincinnati, it's that he's not ready for prime time. He should sit, and he should sit until he understands what he's doing and what he sees -- because that's not happening now.

At least it wasn't here, and, yeah, I'll cut him some slack. He's a rookie trying to learn the toughest and most important position on the field, a position that takes some guys -- Drew Brees, please stand up -- four years to master.

But Newton and the Panthers don't have the time. They don't have a reasonable backup, either. I mean, do you honestly think they're better with Jimmy Clausen at quarterback? Better yet, do you think they could sell Clausen to their fans?

Please. So connect the dots, people. Newton almost surely opens the season in Arizona, and good luck. He's going to need it after what I just saw.

It's not just that he's inaccurate with his passes. He can't find a wide receiver with a divining rod. He's indecisive. He's uncomfortable. He's late on some deliveries. He can't feel the pressure when it's there. He doesn't have a presence in the pocket.

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In short, he looks lost -- which is what happens when you try to absorb in six weeks what it takes some quarterbacks years to learn.

"I'm trying to push myself over the hump," he said. "I don't want that curve that everybody says [where it's] three or four years. I'll be doggone if it takes me that long.

"This whole time trying to get the offense has been sped up. I understand that, but it's not fun losing. I'm a competitor. I don't come out hoping to lose. [Cincinnati] had the same amount of time that we had. So it's not an excuse."

I'll second that. Like Carolina, Cincinnati wheeled out a rookie quarterback it plans to start -- only Andy Dalton didn't look anything like Newton. He was sharp. He was poised. He was accurate. And he won. In fact, Dalton outplayed his opponent by such a wide margin that one local columnist said Newton made him "look like Tom Brady."

Now let's get something straight: Dalton was not that good. But, yes, Cam Newton was that bad, and the stat sheet, please. Dalton was 11 of 17 for 130 yards, with one touchdown and a passer rating of 107.5 and led the Bengals to four scores in six series. Newton was 6 of 19 for 75 yards, with one touchdown run, a passer rating of 44.8 and three scores in seven possessions -- two of which were set up by fumbles.

"I'm sure 6 of 19 wasn't what you were looking for," one reporter said. "What do you attribute that to?

"It's unacceptable," he said. "That's an embarrassing stat."

There was nothing embarrassing, however, about Dalton, and it's hard not to compare the two. Dalton is a second-round choice and the fifth quarterback taken in this year's draft. Newton was the first. In fact, he was the first draft pick, period. But you would never know it watching him and his teammates flounder against the Bengals.

From the very beginning, Newton looked uncomfortable, stepping into guard Mackenzy Bernadeau on his first pass ... an incompletion. That happened again on his second try, with Newton bumped by another offensive lineman as he missed a wide-open Steve Smith, and if you thought that was an omen you're warm.

Eight times he threw to Smith, who was making his first preseason appearance, and only once did they connect.

Granted, it was another meaningless game. Except it wasn't, not for Cam Newton. He was supposed to demonstrate that he's the right man to lead the Panthers, only he didn't demonstrate anything other than he needs a lot more time and work before he steps in a huddle -- and even then I'm not sure it works.

That doesn't mean he didn't have his moments. He dropped a perfectly thrown parachute into the arms of tight end Greg Olsen, good for 28 yards; he ran for a 16-yard TD, bouncing off a tackle at the 3 to roll into the end zone; and he scrambled for 26 yards and a first down. Essentially, what plays he made he made on the run.

But that was about it. Let's just say, as a quarterback, he makes a damned good running back.

Newton played seven series, good for 57 snaps, including 17 in the shotgun. But it didn't matter where he stood ... under center, behind center, he was ineffective. While he had three scrambles for 50 yards out of the shotgun, he also he was 2 for 10 there for 12 yards and one sack.

"Unacceptable," he said again, and at least he got that right.

"I thought he had some moments," said Rivera. "He was a little erratic at times. He felt the pressure at times. I think that got to him a bit. At times, we didn't help him. We need to clean up our route running. If we get into position like we are supposed to and make the breaks that we should, we present better targets for the guy. He needs to make better reads, [but] it goes back to we, as a group. We, as a team, need to go back, practice and get better."

I'll be honest: I don't know if that happens. The lockout penalizes first-year coaching staffs and rookie quarterbacks, and the Panthers have both. Where they would have had six months to get used to each other, to run players through playbooks, drills, OTAs and mini-camps, they have six weeks -- and, yeah, that's unfair, but it's life in the NFL. Teams with systems, coaches and quarterbacks in place should thrive, while teams like Carolina ...

Well, you may have just gotten a preview of what's around the corner.

"The biggest thing we lost sight of," said Rivera, "is that this is a new offense. It's not just about Cam being ready to play; it's about the other 10 guys, too. We have to understand the protections better, we have to run the routes better, we have to run the ball better and we have to make the decisions at quarterback.

"The big thing we can't lose focus of is that it's not just about the one guy. We didn't draft him to be the savior; we drafted him to lead this team. Right now, we're in the throes of [where] everyone is learning. We've got a long ways to go."

And they just proved it.

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